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Why free Apples could open many Windows

Apple has announced that its new operating system, the OS X Mavericks, and its top of the line productivity apps iWork and iLife, will be free from October 23.

Nandagopal Rajan        Last Updated: October 23, 2013  | 19:20 IST
Why free Apples could open many Windows
PHOTO: Reuters

Nandagopal Rajan
In the frenzy that surrounds the launch of a new Apple device - this time two new iPads and a bunch of other well-designed goodies - the biggest announcement of Tuesday's event was sidelined. Apple used the event to announce that its new operating system, the OS X Mavericks, and its top of the line productivity apps iWork and iLife, will be free from today.

Not all of us who read this piece might buy an iPad, but all of us will someway use an operating system, many of us actually buying it in one way or the other. For one of the top device and OS companies to say that their new product is free, is like a car manufacturer saying that the car you are now driving will start running on water from tomorrow. This can only be good news for customers.

Apple does not have a huge chunk of the OS market globally, with rival Microsoft enjoying an almost 90 per cent share. But with an announcement like this it could start eating into Microsoft's shares in many markets. This will be at a time when Microsoft is already struggling with sluggish PC sales and a mobile strategy that has yet to, well, go mobile.

Microsoft has already understood the value of competitive pricing, especially in markets like India where it is faced with enormous levels of piracy. That was evident when it gave away the Windows 8 OS upgrade for as low as Rs 699. It is offering its marquees product, the Office 365, too, at special prices for certain sections.

But then counter that with something that is absolutely free.

Let us take the case of someone who is thinking of buying a sleek, lightweight laptop which he wants to carry around for daily use. If he is undecided on whether to buy a MacBook Air or an Ultrabook, both of which are roughly priced in the Rs 65,000 bracket, the fact that he gets two productivity software suites for free could be a deal breaker.

It won't make much of a difference in the entry level laptop ranges where Apple does not have a competing device.

And it is not just Apple that is going free. Last week Google brought to India the Chromebook, a slim, thin computer that uses its Chrome OS for what is primarily communication and consumption uses. The device is cheap with prices as low as Rs 22,999, but they also don't need any paid software. Almost everything that you will need, and will run, on this browser-based cloud-first operating system are available as free downloads. If you are someone with no enterprise mail to bother about and no Adobe Photoshops to run, this is all you need.

For now, the ball is pretty much in Microsoft's court. It certainly has to rethink its pricing policy, at least for individual users. Yes, corporates will still continue to buy their wares, but it will be a tough ask getting consumers to forsake free for paid.

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