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However Microsoft prices the Surface tablet will ultimately determine the extent to which it dips into partners’ profit pools. While details have been kept under wraps, Microsoft did say Monday that the Surface will sell at an "extremely competitive" price point.
Earlier this month, however, reports suggested Microsoft would charge its OEM partners between $80 and $95 for each copy of Windows RT provided to them -- a much steeper prospect compared to earlier reports that speculated prices as low as $35. This software charge could potentially drive up the price of other non-Surface tablets running Windows RT and position Microsoft’s tablet as being the more competitively priced.
Gartner’s Nguyen, who was quick to note that his opinion on the Surface tablet isn’t necessarily indicative of Gartner’s as a whole, told CRN that jeopardizing partner relationships isn’t the only risk Microsoft may take with the Surface. The tablet market has proved to be a cutthroat one, with OEMs ranging from HP to Dell to Research In Motion having to yank poor-selling devices from the shelves.
If Microsoft plans to carve a space for itself in the mobile PC market this late in the game, the Surface tablet is really going to need a wow factor -- or at least something that clearly sets it apart from the slew of other tablets already available. And, from Nguyen’s perspective, it’s not yet clear if that’s the case.
"I wouldn’t necessarily see anything introduced as being a game changer," he said of the Surface. "It’s more of an extension of features of whatever de facto standards the iPad has already introduced to the market."
That said, he continued, the inclusion of native Microsoft Office apps, and, in the case of the Windows Pro-based Surface devices, a full-fledged Windows 8 desktop, may make the new tablets appeal to business users who have shied away from the more consumer-focused iPad or Android-based devices.
"This might fill in the niche of people… still on the fence about getting a tablet," Nguyen said. "As great as the iPad is, work productivity has a lot to do with Microsoft applications, so there’s an opportunity there."
David McQueen, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms and Media, agreed that the Surface tablet’s ability to emerge as the industry’s flagship enterprise-focused tablet will be key to its success.
"If it has the requisite Windows office applications available from launch -- across both device types and suitable peripherals to make input easier -- at a price point that is competitive, then I do see it displacing notebooks and netbooks in the office," McQueen said in a statement.