By Christine Wong

It looks like Windows 8 is on the cusp of being declared a disappointment for Microsoft before it’s even left the gate.

There are still a few weeks to go before Windows 8 officially launches on Oct. 26 but the knives are already out. Headlines are buzzing about how there are hardly any apps in the new Windows 8 apps store (only about 2,500, just half the 5,000 dubbed respectable by one analyst). 

Media wags are wondering ‘Will the Windows App Store even really be fully ready by Oct. 26?’ And if there aren’t enough apps this close to the Windows 8 launch, isn’t that just a replay of the disastrous PlayBook debut that led critics to screech about the lack of apps for RIM’s tablet? And we all know what happened to RIM after that. By courting app developers too late in the game before Windows 8 launches, Microsoft has seriously fumbled the ball, it appears.

 

It’s an interesting development (no pun intended) in the evolving world of media optics and how that p.r. game affects huge technology companies today. As someone who’s spent the past 15 years documenting the ups and downs of huge corporations like Microsoft, Apple and others (some of which are no longer with us – take a bow, Nortel Networks), I’ve had a seat pretty close to the stage upon which these companies craft and push their marketing messages out to the world.

Social media as important as news media

Over that time I’ve seen how changes in technology have affected the way companies’ media messages get sent out into the ether. Increasingly, those changes in media technology are also affecting the collective perception of those companies more quickly and decisively than ever before.

Tech companies have always spent millions of dollars on crafting marketing messages and then disseminating them to the media as part of their goal to create a positive perception before their products go to market. But now the instantaneous nature of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, online forums and the Web-based news wheel have made it more challenging for companies to control their own messages, or at least how they’re spun by the media (and on social media).

So here we are, a few weeks before Windows 8 launches, but the media and Twitterverse have already declared it a bit of a dud. Trying to reverse that perception is a Herculean p.r. and marketing battle for Microsoft this late in the third period.

The Windows 8 p.r. fiasco can’t be blamed solely on the speed and reach of Web-based media and social media, however. Microsoft has simply failed to recapture its reputation as an innovator. As one of its major Canadian channel partners told me at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference here in Toronto in July, Microsoft just doesn’t seem cool anymore. (Personally, I would have substituted the word “still” for “just”.)

Online optics can deliver a crushing blow

Still, there’s no denying how swiftly the court of online opinion can deliver a hammer blow capable of crushing a product immediately after (or even before) a product launches. It didn’t take long before Apple got an earful for releasing a new mapping feature that appears half-baked at best. Here we are just days later and CEO Tim Cook has already posted a mea culpa to apologize for the gaffe. In today’s Web-based media circus, though, waiting that long to acknowledge such a backlash makes little sense, especially for a behemoth like Apple.

And Cook’s better-late-than-never apology has led to a new round of headlines predicting the downward slide of Apple: “Is Tim Cook’s goose cooked?” (that’s PC World), “Apple’s map error a path to lost customers” (the Globe and Mail), “Did Tim Cook’s apology hurt Apple’s brand value?” (that’d be from the blog Wall St. Cheat Sheet).

In today’s online court of public opinion (not to mention online rumours and speculation), how quickly companies like Apple and Microsoft react to an instant funnel cloud of negativity can make or break a product release.

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