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Microsoft officially made its debut in the tablet PC market Monday with the launch of its new Surface Windows RT and Windows Pro devices. But in doing so, the long-time software veteran may have pitted itself against some of its largest OEM partners -- which are also some of its largest customers -- according to industry analysts.
Manufacturers including Samsung, Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard, Asus and Acer have been gearing up to launch their own tablet PCs running Microsoft’s next-gen Windows OS later this year as a move to compete against market leaders Apple and Google.
But with the advent of the Surface tablet, one of their biggest competitors will now be Microsoft itself.
Microsoft's OEM partners have been uncharacteristically quiet with their reactions to the Surface tablet, a calm that could speaks volumes given the growing importance of tablet PCs as the BYOD and consumerization trends heat up. Samsung and Acer did not respond to a request for comment on Microsoft’s new tablet PC, while HP and Asus declined to comment.
Lenovo told CRN that it views Microsoft as a valued partner, and that it will continue to offer both Android- and Windows 8-based tablets down the line, as it strives to create a product portfolio that affords its customers choice.
Dell also declined to comment. But, like Lenovo, a spokesperson for the company said Microsoft is an important partner, and that Dell looks forward to delivering a full slate of Windows 8 products including tablets later this year.
Despite an underwhelming response from many of Microsoft’s biggest OEM partners, industry analysts have stepped forward with their own thoughts on the Surface tablet and, particularly, the impact it may have on Microsoft’s relationship with its partner base.
According to Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen, for instance, the Surface tablet instills a competitive dynamic between Microsoft and its partners that wasn’t previously there.
"I think that’s going to take a considerable amount of juggling when basically your partners are competing against you," Nguyen told CRN. "A lot of people have tried it, and a lot of people are trying it, but I don’t think it will be a successful model. It puts your partners in a very uncomfortable position."
Deron Kershaw, industry analyst with Gap Intelligence, agreed that the Surface tablet could have an adverse effect on Microsoft’s partner ecosystem. While the Redmond, Wash.-based software vet most likely launched the Surface to ensure, first hand, that Windows 8 hardware will meet consumers’ expectations, it remains unseen whether the benefits of this go-it-alone approach will outweigh the potential blow it could deal OEM partners.
"I can't imagine that many of Microsoft's partners were thrilled with the Surface tablet announcement. It looks like Microsoft is responding to a trend that consumers have been aware of for a while: there has been a surprising lack of innovation from tablet manufacturers," Kershaw wrote in an email to CRN. "The Surface gives Microsoft a little more control over Windows 8's fate, adds another revenue stream and attracts some shoppers to its stores, but I wonder if it's worth the damage to its relationship with partners."
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