By Matt North, Strategy Director
Last week saw the tech sector work itself into an even greater frenzy of hype than usual. The reason is not one, but four major vendors announcing or releasing products into the market: Apple came first on 23 October with its widely-lauded iPad mini (and perhaps more impressive new Macbooks and iMacs); then came the UK release of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet; 26 October saw the release of Microsoft’s most important Windows 8 as well its first ever range of PCs (albeit in tablet format) and finally, Google had scheduled an event for 29 October, which was postponed due to Hurricane Sandy, which was the launch of theNexus 10 running the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean OS update.
Whereas a few years ago, these kind of product launches would largely be covered within specialist media (or the technology section of the newspapers), these launches will very much be in the mainstream. In fact, in WPP’s 2012 BrandZ survey of the world’s most valuable brands, four of the top five were tech firms.
Aside from the financial perspective (Apple currently being the world’s most valuable company and Microsoft and Google jostling to be the world’s second most valuable tech firm). The coverage reflects the fact that these releases now matter to the mainstream. Despite working closely with Microsoft, I’m still amazed at how widespread the adoption of these devices is. Whether it’s the 50-something taxi driver in the village of Wendens Ambo, near where I live, filling time between trips Skyping on his netbook with a friend in Bangladesh, or his fellow mini-cab driver signalling to his fare by holding a ticker app with her name on his iPad (both of which I witnessed last week). Or the conversation with my 84-year-old father-in-law at the weekend around the relative merits of the Kindle Fire and iPad for those with accessibility requirements, it seems that personal computing is increasingly being seen as an everyday necessity for us all — something that Wired.co.uk readers will have known for a long time.
However, for the first time in 30 years, consumers genuinely have a choice. Whereas before the smartphone era, some 95 percent of personal computers shipped with Windows, the adoption of smartphones and tablets means that Microsoft’s share of operating system on new PC sales is just 30 percent. Consumers can now benefit from an increasing array of connected devices, powered by credible offerings from Google, Apple and Microsoft, often at extremely affordable prices.
Apple has clearly disrupted the PC market — first with the iPhone and later with the iPad, both of which have increasingly penetrated the workplace. In turn, Google has managed to play catch-up quickly by offering a more cost effective and open alternative in the form of Android.
For all of these reasons, the importance of Windows 8 is critical to Microsoft’s future success. Whilst in the past Microsoft may have been open to accusations of not really caring about the consumer, it knows too well that success for devices in the household today could offer a real threat to its dominance in the workplace of the future (the so-called consumerisation of IT). This has caused Microsoft to really up its game — not just by designing the only touch-enabled operating system that can work across laptop, tablet and phone — but also moving increasingly into hardware — first with its Surface tablets, and as hinted by Chief Executive Steve Ballmer last week, additional devices.
All of this is great news for the consumer. As the tech giants battle it out to become the operating system of choice (and in so doing secure a future revenue stream from you via their own “stores”), they are having to accelerate their innovation cycles and keep a keen eye on pricing. For instance, many are saying that the iPad Mini would never have come out on Steve Jobs’ watch. However, things are moving so quickly in the sector and such has been the success of the 7-inch Android devices that for the first time in years Apple was forced to follow the market and fulfil a consumer need.
It’s certainly been an interesting week in the battle of the tech giants — and, whilst the war is still to be won consumers, will continue to benefit. Long may it continue.