SAN FRANCISCO — At an event meant to feature its latest iPad tablet computing devices, Apple on Tuesday took aim at one of the biggest and seemingly unassailable businesses of its rival Microsoft, its Office software for tasks like word processing and spreadsheets. Apple said iWork, a set of applications for Macs, iPads and iPhones that essentially duplicates whatMicrosoft’s Office offers customers, would be free to anyone who bought a new Macintosh computer or mobile device from Apple. Each Apple app used to cost $10 apiece. The latest version of the Macintosh operating system, Mavericks, will also be free.
The pricing maneuver was perhaps the lone surprise at an Apple new media event here at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. As expected, Apple souped up its iPads with faster processors and zippier Internet connections.
Tablets are devouring the PC market, which has long been Microsoft’s playing ground. About 120 million tablets were shipped in 2012, nearly seven times as many as in 2010, when the first Apple iPad was released, according to Gartner, a market research company. IDC, another research company, predicts that sales of tablets will surpass those of PCs in the fourth quarter of this year and on an annual basis in 2015.
So far, Microsoft has had little success in that growing market. Its attempts to sell tablets have been failures, and Windows 8, which it has marketed as a software system for tablets and PCs, has gotten a chilly reception. What’s more, Microsoft still charges $120 for people who want to upgrade from the older Windows 7 system to Windows 8.
Apple is No. 1 in the tablet market with about a 32 percent share, according to IDC. But the company faces fierce competition from companies like Amazon, Samsung Electronics and Google, whose tablets undercut the iPad in price. Samsung, the No. 2 tablet maker, is quickly gaining traction, with 18 percent of the market in the second quarter, compared with 7.6 percent in the period a year earlier, according to IDC.