October 22, 2012, 11:57 AM — Apple's invitation to Tuesday's announcement promised "a little more to show you." In staging an Apple event on Tuesday to unveil the long-awaited iPad Mini (and, perhaps, updated iMacs and MacBook Airs), Apple is poised to steal a lot of Microsoft's thunder later in the week. On Thursday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will release Windows 8 to the masses and launch Microsoft's first tablet, the Surface RT.
The Surface and similar tablets designed and manufactured by Microsoft's OEM partners -- including some tablet/laptop hybrids -- are supposed to represent the company's response to the iPad. All are designed to be lightweight and portable, offer extended battery life and will run the new Windows RT -- a version of Windows 8 designed for ARM-based devices that includes a touch-enabled, non-commercial version of Office 2013. The devices will attempt to compete with the iPad on look and price and offer a range of features that appeal to consumers and business users alike: higher storage capacity, standard USB ports and expandable storage via SD cards.
Microsoft's event should be a shot across Apple's bow that says Microsoft can deliver a tablet experience as good as, if not better than, Apple's iPad. Microsoft has spent months developing and planning for the launch to ensure its message is loud and clear.
Another Apple frenzy
There's just one problem. Apple, which can create a media frenzy by inviting a select group of technology journalist to an event without even indicating what it will say, has done just that right before the Windows 8 launch. It will almost certainly be an event where Apple will wow the audience with news about how it is expanding its tablet lineup to include new form factors with lower price tags. Apple could even update its current full-size iPad lineup.
If nothing else, Apple will be able to preemptively remind everyone that it defined the tablet market with the original iPad in 2010, that it has the most robust app ecosystem in the world, and that Microsoft is more than two and half years late to the party. That's a pretty powerful message, and one that the mere existence of an Apple iPad Mini delivers without anyone saying anything about Microsoft, Windows 8 or the Surface at all.
Apple's playing hardball, something it's been doing more of lately.