Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology. This week marks Switched On's eighth anniversary.
It's difficult to remember as jam-packed a week in terms of industry announcements from major OS providers as the recent seven-day stretch that included a bevy of hardware announcements from Apple, a new tablet and OS upgrade from Google, and two major operating system releases as well as an unprecedented hardware release from Microsoft. Of course, as would be expected from these dominant digital ecosystem stewards, all of the new products included elements of hardware, software and services, even if they were sometimes implicit. But each company could have done significantly more to highlight new third-party apps that were really taking advantage of that combination.
When judged by tradition, it was most surprising that Apple did not show off any new apps that took advantage of the powerful processor of the fourth-generation iPad, which has come to market just six months after the previous generation and leap-frogged the iPhone 5.
True, Apple had many announcements across its desktop, notebook and iPad lines to get through during its San Jose event. And the company did show off a number of apps that highlighted developer optimization for its tablet. However, the demonstration of a new or updated game that took advantage of the fourth-generation iPad's upgraded processing power versus the now less-compelling iPad 2, or which highlighted a new use case for the iPad mini would have served as a positive selling point versus the extended contrast with Android tablets. This is particularly true now that Microsoft has jumped in, rewriting the competitive tablet landscape with Surface.
Indeed, when judged by imperative, it was most surprising that Microsoft had so little to say about third-party apps at its official Windows 8 debut in New York. Most of the early reviews of Surface RT have highlighted its clever and thoughtful design and premium build and materials. However, as Switched On noted last week, the lack of backward software compatibility hurts Surface's competitiveness. Microsoft was in a prime position with the official launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT to announce major support of third-party vendors, even if that came at the expense of reminding customers of Windows RT's broad printer compatibility.
Microsoft paid more attention to third-party apps at its Windows Phone 8 launch that followed the Windows 8 debut a continent away from a powerful hurricane. There, in addition to spotlighting some heretofore secret features of the new mobile operating system such as Data Sense, Kid's Corner and Rooms (all of which have third-party software implications), Microsoft announced its intention to bring 46 of the top 50 mobile apps to Windows Phone. Among these was a long sought-after prize: Pandora. The popular personalized radio app will debut on Windows Phone without ads, adding another strong option alongside Slacker, Xbox Music and (on Lumias) Nokia Music.
Google, of course, cannot fairly be judged on what it would have shown off at its event that was wisely cancelled as the impact of Hurricane Sandy became apparent. As Switched On discussed last month, Google hasn't seen the level of tablet app optimization that it would like to see to compete against the iPad and now Windows RT tablets. If Google is successful, the Nexus 10 may follow the expanded sales volume of the smaller Nexus 7, creating more incentive for Android developers to optimize. However, in the short term, the device's expansive resolution will simply exacerbate the smartphone app scaling issues upon which Apple has been all too eager to pounce.
Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a research and advisory firm focusing on consumer technology adoption. He shares commentary at Techspressive and on Twitter at@rossrubin.