Stars of the show missing as Microsoft NZ launches Windows 8
Microsoft staged a worldwide launch for Windows 8 and its Surface tablet today.
But New Zealand doesn't get the Surface, and Microsoft NZ can't say when it will arrive, or what it will cost. Windows 8 tablets from partners like Samsung have yet to appear. And Windows Phone 8 handsets from Samsung, Nokia and others are also MIA.
You can love or hate Apple.
But you know, as night follows day, that Apple will have phone companies and retailers lined up, and, release dates and pricing by country. NZ won't miss out.. There's focus. The company knows its customers want to details like when, where and price. It illustrates commitment.
As I type (6am Friday NZT, 1pm Thursday US Eastern), Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is on stage in New York, showcasing Windows 8, arguably his company's most crucial product, ever.
Mr Ballmer is also showcasing the Surface, a tablet made by Microsoft, and the company's first ever stab at making a computer in its 37 year history.
The CEO is pushing a "One Windows fits all" line.
Microsoft's key strategy - and it's a good one - is that Windows 8 is available for PCs, touchscreen PCs, tablets (its own Surface and those made by Acer HP, Dell, Samsung and others) and smartphones.
Software developers will be able to release one app which (with only a few tweaks) they'll be able to make available across all those different platforms.
The "One Windows fits all" stategy is backed by the new online Windows Store, Microsoft's equivalent to Apple's iTunes AppStore and Google's Play.
I don't know if it will work. But it's a bold strategy, and it's good to see Mr Ballmer on the front foot.
Now, the bad stuff.
Microsoft announced US, Australia and other territory pricing for the Surface some time ago, and it is now taking orders through its US website (see the US Surface page and full pricing here; Surface has been launched across the Tasman today).
Yesterday afternoon, Samsung unveiled Windows 8 PCs for the NZ market (some touchscreen, some not), but had no word on when its Windows Phone 8 smartphones or Windows 8 tablets would hit NZ. It hopes before Christmas, but is waiting on carrier certification, it says. It hopes for a pre-Christmas launch. Neither is there any definitive word from Nokia on its Windows Phone 8 product.
HP has confirmed a Windows 8 tablet, but can only say it will appear in NZ at some point next year.
One wonders if Nokia, and others, have the pip that Microsoft has gone into the Windows hardware business with the Surface (arleady, Acer has made aggressive noises). And of course Samsung is already going gangbusters with its Android-based smartphones (and to a lesser degree it Android tablets). It's making supportive noises about the mobile versions of Windows 8, but it lacks any pressing motivation to go in boots and all.
Microsoft NZ manager Paul Muckleston at this morning's launch with a Samsung Slate upgraded from Windows 7 to the new Windows 8 (Samsung has no NZ release date for its Windows ATIV range of tablets and smartphones, but hopes to get them on the market before Christmas). Mr Muckleston says he can run all his PC software on the tablet running Windows 8. Microsoft sees this as a key selling point over the iPad with business buyers.
Windows 8 culture shock?
Early reviews have been split on Windows 8 (which is selling from a keen $49.99 as a download upgrade via Microsoft's website or $89.99 for a disc from a retailer. See Microsoft's full NZ pricing here. The download version is around 3GB.)
The headline story is that the Start button is gone, replaced by a Start screen with large, sliding tiles (already familiar to Windows Phone users).
The new look is a culture shock. Some reviewers see that as a turn-off, and say the touchscreen-friendliness of Windows 8 makes less sense on a PC than a tablet or smartphone. Especially if you have a non-touchscreen PC (and that is, 99.9% of the half billion Windows 7 users), there's a lot of realestate to cover with a mouse.
Others say that once you make the adjustment, Windows 8 is a much better experience, and it jars to return to Windows 8.
And while Microsoft has a strong spiel for the Windows 8 version of the Surface - it has enough hardware grunt to replace your desktop or laptop if docked to a keyboard and monitor - iit has muddied the waters by also releasing a cheaper, lower-spec version of the surface that runs the new Windows RT. Cue market confusion.
It's the apps, stupid
A lot of the new campaign's success will depend on the Windows Store - its ease of use across platforms, and the number and quality of its apps.
Microsoft NZ country manager Paul Muckleston said this morning that there were 100 Kiwi apps available right now - and now hellow-world apps, but those for name brands like Sky TV, Trade Me and the NZ Herald, which NBR understands is an Auckland-based tabloid.
With PC buyers getting Windows 8 with new PCs, he said the local market for developers would soon run to 700,000 PCS, and worldwide 400 million - providing a large market for New Zealand developers.
There would be a large amount of advertising over the next six months, Mr Muckleston said. NZ was one of 30 countries with a major Windows 8 campaign. The company will spend $US1.5 billion on worldwide marketing.
Research firm Gartner has expressed skepticism that Windows 8 has any killer apps to push business users into upgrading, and reckons 80% of business users will never upgrade.
This morning, Microsoft NZ demo'd "Windows 8 to Go" - or the functionality that lets a USB stick with Windows 8 be plugged into a Windows 7 PC to make it boot to Windows 8. Mr Muckleston sees the feature as attractive to business buyers. It provides an easy way for companies to provide, for example, provide the new software for a contract worker.
Mr Muckleston also sees the fact all Windows 7 software is compatible with Windows 8 as a selling point to business; and that full-blooded Windows progrmmes can be loaded to a Windows 8 tablet.
And at today's Microsoft NZ launch, developer Ben Gracewood told the audience, "Hackers are stunned by Windows 8" - or at least their inability to break into it. Given recent publicity over secuirty issues, that's aspect could hold strong appeal to business.
Mr Gracewood works for Auckland-based MarkerMetro, which bills itself as the world's first Windows Phone specialist. Marker Metro created the aforementioned Trade Me and Herald apps (which also have Windows 8 desktop versions). MarkerMetro has also developed an app for 7 Digital across the Tasman. And its this potential for international sales through the Windows Store that Mr Muckleston talking up the new OS's potential for Kiwi developers.
Within weeks, Mr Muckleston expects 70% of PCs sold on the NZ market to come with Windows 8 (and indeed, the secret sauce of any Windows upgrade campaign is that the old version gets retired from retail).
And as for the Surface?
Mr Muckleston wrapped up by saying the Surface would be available locally "in the forseeable future." He added that people could order a Surface in the US or Australia, then ship it in. The ultimate in bring-your-own device, you could say.
Pictured above: At midnight last night, Aucklander Greg Daniel, the first in the world to buy a copy of Windows 8 (NBR is assuming the crowd is out-of-shot).