Microsoft Partners Not Feeling The Tablet Love

Michael Cocanower, president of Phoenix-based Microsoft solution provider ITSynergy, believes the iPad will end up being a niche product that appeals to a small segment of consumers.

"Apple has done with this what they do with virtually every device they release -- apply extremely intelligent and user friendly design principles, in both hardware and software, to create a device in a consumer category that already exists," said Cocanower. "The iPad will be an alternative to netbooks and e-readers, but to me it's a novelty that I might want for my living room, but nothing more."

At CES earlier this month, rumors were that Microsoft was planning to unveil a new Windows 7 powered tablet device made by HP. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer did show off a so-called "Slate" device from HP, but spent barely three minutes of his keynote talking about it. Apple fans had a field day with the news, claiming Microsoft intentionally downplayed the Slate so it wouldn't pale in comparison to the Apple tablet.

Whether this lack of hype was due to Microsoft's earlier struggles with Windows based tablets is anyone's guess, but one Microsoft solution provider believes that tablets are always going to be relegated to niche market status.

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"I'm not convinced any tablet is going to succeed in the marketplace. To date, none really have, and I don't think Windows 7 is going to make the compelling difference," said Marc Harrison, president of Silicon East, a Microsoft solution provider in Manalapan, N.J.

But not all Microsoft partners are dismissing the iPad's potential to force Microsoft's hand. Neil Pearlstein, president of PC Professional, an Oakland, Calif.-based Microsoft Gold Partner, sees Apple's track record of building niche markets into successful ones as something that bears watching.

"Not only do I think [the iPad] will have a huge negative effect on any proposed Microsoft tablet, it's also going to impact manufacturers that are already selling Windows based tablets," Pearlstein predicted.

Microsoft solution providers aren't known for praising Apple product launches, although many have found the lure of the iPhone to be irresistible. While Microsoft is trying to show it can compete in consumer markets, VARs don't see that side of the software giant's business. And frankly, they couldn't care less.

"Apple is still, in my mind, a consumer oriented company," said Bob Nitrio, CEO of Ranvest Associates, an Orangevale, Calif.-based technology consultant. "When they want to play in my space -- the SMB market -- they can call on me and I will see if they have something of value to say. Until then they are one giant yawn to me."