Playing The Tablet Card


The competitive landscape in the tablet market is undoubtedly heating up with new offerings coming from Google, Microsoft and eventually other OEMs who are likely to come to market with a Windows platform device.

It’s difficult to imagine that Windows-based tablets won’t have an impact in the business market, and Microsoft may be using its own offering as a way to push its OEM partners to get up to the table quickly. But there are some real issues Microsoft needs to get past in order to have the type of success that can blunt Apple’s meteoric rise.

First thing is to put in place a real plan to drive its own tablet through solution providers in the business marketplace.

Microsoft has a huge advantage here with its channel calling on and supporting millions of businesses. I can write the pitch myself. Windows integrates easily with the network, its security features make enterprise customers comfortable, and there is a support and integration system second to none via its channel. But that advantage won’t last forever. Apple is building a value-added channel and support structure and having real success recruiting partners to join its force. At the same time, Microsoft is anything but a powerhouse in the retail space beyond the very successful Xbox.

So on the Apple vs. Microsoft account, you have to give an advantage to Microsoft in the business environment when it gets product to market and an advantage to Apple in the consumer space.

But Microsoft may have other issues in tablet now that it is building its own device. Will its OEM partners fall in line as easily given they are competing with its operating system supplier? Steve Ballmer in an interview with CRN said the company will create a level playing field for its OEM partners who will be competing with Microsoft, the maker of the operating system.

So what does that mean? I guess it means it won’t take the obvious pricing advantage it could in the market, but it will make more profit given that it isn’t paying for the operating system. This may not sit well with the OEM partners who, in turn, could push in addition the Android operating system. And Ballmer says Microsoft will not share information about those OEMs’ tablet plans with its own Surface team nor will it hold back any information to them. In the end, the reality is these are issues that have little impact on the channel. For partners, there is a growing opportunity in the tablet market, and the fact is tablets have already started to eat into notebook sales. That trend will increase.

For partners that play in the hardware space, the tablet market is becoming a necessity. Having an offering and integrating tablets into the network is only going to get bigger. Will the margins be any better here? Absolutely not. But there will be opportunity to build company-specific apps that accomplish specific tasks, so the development work around it could be interesting.

The fact is, by this time next year we should expect there will be a number of viable alternatives to Apple’s iPad, something there isn’t today. When that happens, the market tends to expand because more offerings drive more interest.

Notebook PCs have, in all likelihood, peaked from a yearly shipment perspective. While none of us should expect a collapse, there will be fewer sold on an annual basis in the future than we have seen over the last few years. Solution providers understand this and are poised to take advantage of the possibilities.

Microsoft has more upside with the channel in business than Apple does, but only if it plays its cards right.

BACKTALK: Make something happen. Robert Faletra is CEO of UBM Channel. You can contact him via e-mail at robert.faletra@ubm.com.

PUBLISHED ON JULY 22, 2012