The coming week sees all three OS and hardware players hosting major product launches. Will this season's essential holiday purchase be a Mac Mini, a Surface Tablet, an Ultrabook, a Chromebook or an iPad Mini? Whatever happens at least one player is likely to be sorely disappointed.
Light the Candle
On Tuesday, Apple kicks off the already-stacked holiday technology selling season with the unveiling of its iPad Mini. The smaller, consumption-heavy, tablet will see the company scrapping with the Kindle Fire, Nexus and other tablets, with Apple having to fight for sales rather than kicking off a market (as it did with the first iPhone and iPad). Apple may also be showing off a revised model iPad 3 along with new Mac hardware to give it some seasonal oomph!
Next Monday, both Google and Microsoft have major events. Microsoft marks the biggest launch in its history with a battery of Windows 8 hardware, way beyond the bland desktops and notebooks of the past, plus a Marketplace for apps and the new OS itself for upgraders. The Surface tablet is the poster-boy for Microsoft's efforts, but it is likely to be the Ultrabook range that sees Microsoft making most headway.
Google will respond on the same day with a new budget Chromebook, updated Nexus 7 tablets, plus a new Google Nexus phone, likely based on a LG model and the first one to feature Android 4.2. Between them, all of these devices must represent a fair portion of Asia's hardware output and will be flooding western stores and warehouses in the weeks and months to come.
Which Will Fly?
With all these products lighting up the market, and many businesses and end users still treading cautiously as we navigate flagging economies, consumer choice will never have been greater or more important.
It is pretty much a given that we no longer live in a Windows world, outside of the stodgy progress of enterprise. With cloud offerings, Mac OS X and Chrome's environment pushing users in different directions and increasing choice. Similarly, no longer is the PC the driving force in all our technology choices, now users are more likely to pick something that will work well with their phone or tablet, or even their TV.
For new buyers wading into this confusing market, association with a brand (so the brand-makers like to tell us) is more important than a technology. That could also have an impact, as we have seen with the decline of Sony, BlackBerry among others, and the rise of Amazon, Samsung and Huawei. Which brand could be next to dive out of favor?
Who Could Stumble?
While this season's sales results, no matter how the companies spin the numbers, some folks are going to be disappointed.
Apple has already seen sales of iPhone 5 stall due to production issues and potential sales of iPad 3 are on hold as buyers wait to see the new iPad. Will it make up for these dings in Apple's sales juggernaut? Anything less than stellar results will cause short-term nerves, but Apple's meteoric ride is far from over.
Microsoft will see little interest from big-walleted enterprise buyers, apart from executives expensing their shiny Surface tablet, no matter how hard it pushes the new (admittedly loss-leading) hardware and OS as an upgrade. Business is already very nervous over the Windows 8 transition, and if a company is happy with Windows 7 will be many years from upgrading, perhaps even to the new Office too.
Which leaves consumers and small business, will they flock to the new machines? That's perhaps the biggest question, and the one no one can answer, such is the leap into the unknown. A few quarters of weakness from Windows 8 could put it in a stick situation.
Google perhaps has least to lose. As long as revenue comes in (despite recent bumps) from search and services via any desktop and through the Android army, it can experiment and release hardware at its own pace. The Chrome project is yet to make any great headway, but perhaps we've acclimatised enough in the clouds for it to be more viable for users.
Tale of the Ticker Tape
Of the three, Apple perhaps could come off worst this season, not in a ecosystem or financial sense, but it could be perceived as a follower and not a leader, especially if iPad Mini doesn't fly sufficiently high. On the plus side, Apple can afford it and can rapidly learn any lessons.
Microsoft could face the biggest impact, but that's over a far longer period. If consumers don't lap up Windows 8 and then Windows Phone 8, it could find itself winding into a vortex of trouble as it constantly pivots to make sense of the world it is competing in.
Which leaves Google as the likely winner in this season's hardware battle, without needing the stellar sales of its rivals. It has premium products for Android fans, a cloud-OS it can afford to take its time evolving products like Project Glass, and with Samsung falling ever further out with Apple, it could have a cosier relationship with one of tech's biggest builders. Who is your money on to thrive and struggle out of this maelstrom of technology and gadgets?