LAST Thursday, the world changed – once again.
Microsoft’s launch of Windows 8 was the obvious, expected
and long-planned main event. Not quite as expected or planned, Microsoft’s
nemesis, Apple, announced its first disappointing financial results in many
The irony of this turning of the tables was that, just two
days earlier, Apple had made its own biggest product announcement in its
history. It had launched the new iPad mini 7.9” tablet, along with a fourth
generation iPad, and new versions of its iconic iMac computer, MacBook Pro
laptop and Mac mini computer.
Such an extensive upgrade of its range, the launch of a new
format and the arrival of the iPad 4 barely six months after the previous
version represented a show of force by Apple.
Coming – not coincidentally –
two days before the launch of Windows 8, it sent a message that Apple was able
to go large any time it wanted, and that it had not lost its touch for
producing deeply desirable products.
At the same time, however, it revealed chinks in its armour.
Crucially, the new 7.9” iPad mini represented the first major new product from
Apple in more than a decade that did not lead the market. It was a response to
the massive inroads made into its tablet market share by 7” tablets, in
particular Amazon’s Kindle Fire.
Before he passed away, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs had
insisted Apple would never make a device in that format. But, just sometimes,
market forces speak louder than single-minded vision.
The bigger surprise, however, was the pricing of the iPad
mini. Given the $249 tag on the Kindle Fire and other competitors, it was
assumed the mini would cost the same – and clean up the market. Instead, it was
launched at $330 – prompting an instant decline in the Apple share price.
Then, on Thursday night, Apple announced quarterly financial
results that disappointed the market – a rare occurrence.
Coming as it did even as Microsoft was unveiling a vast
range of machines running Windows 8, it marked the beginning of a new era in
At the South African launch in Johannesburg, one large wall
was lined with device after device running Windows 8 in different formats:
large and small computers, large and small laptops, tablets, and hybrid devices
that can double as a laptop and a tablet.
One device in particular attracted special attention: the
Samsung Windows Ativ 10.1” tablet. Aside from being the first Windows tablet
from the brand that had presented Apple with its only serious competition in
the 10” tablet format, Samsung had previously been the main producer of tablets
running Google’s Android operating system.
The device itself was only half the story. It came with a
startling announcement: in South Africa, it would initially only be sold by
Standard Bank to its customers, at a 16% discount to its R8 000 price tag.
Microsoft also announced that Standard’s banking app – which had appeared on
smartphones and tablets a full year after FNB’s entry into the apps space –
would be the first South African banking app on Windows 8.
If the app was the first step in catching up, the Samsung
Ativ represents the second phase in Standard Bank’s efforts. FNB has sold more
than 100 000 devices – tablets and smartphones – through offering attractive
discounts only to customers.
As a customer acquisition exercise among
up-and-coming wage earners, it was groundbreaking.
The exclusive deal with Samsung, for the first time, gives
Standard Bank a small edge in what will initially be a small niche of the
market. It is believed to have pre-ordered 5 000 of the devices.
The further significance of the device is that it is in
effect a stand-in for the Surface, Microsoft’s own tablet that represents its
first direct entry into the computer hardware market.
The Surface is only sold
through Microsoft branded stores, of which close to 50 have been rolled out in
North America. Neither the stores nor the devices are expected in South Africa
within in the next year.
While the Surface was conspicuous by its absence at the
launch, close to 45 other devices were on display.
“That is the kind of choice we are giving,” said Mteto
Nyati, country head of Micsosoft South Africa in an interview.
“You will have
the same operating system but, if you want something completely different from
a hardware perspective, you will have something completely different.”
In a rare comment on the competition, Nyati acknowledged
that the timing and nature of the Apple event was significant.
“In the past they would never have considered a Microsoft
launch and then make a decision around that on timing their own event.
are beginning to see is that Microsoft is becoming more relevant in the
consumer space, our products are now much more competitive, and we have carved
a new space.”
Of course, Apple is not going away. Its devices remain
iconic and market leaders. The Core Group in South Africa has negotiated
pricing that allows it to sell the devices at near-equivalents of US prices.
That tends to leave the rival products overpriced.
Clearly, Microsoft and its partners will need to pay careful
attention to pricing. Meanwhile, they are meeting users’ need for products that
can be used for both work and play, in the office and on the road.
Windows 8 is Microsoft’s comeback, and the its timing could
not have been better.
*Arthur Goldstuck is managing director of World Wide Worx
and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter or Pinterest on