Microsoft's Tablet Advantage


Microsoft's decision to build its own tablet and sell it directly marks a sea change in IT and an admission that the market has shifted while Microsoft stood by and held onto an old model that requires significant adjustment. The announcement is more interesting for what it says about the industry, and a first step by the company to build a vertically integrated product for business.

While the very successful Xbox is a vertically integrated product with every element controlled by Microsoft, the tablet is the first time the operating-system monopolist has stepped into the business market with a complete product. This, of course, means its traditional OEM partners may or may not step forward with a Windows tablet of their own.

The implication here is that Microsoft's move could actually help Android along. The reality is this all shows how the market is changing. HP, Dell and other traditional OEMs that licensed Microsoft software have jumped into the software business themselves. Microsoft's lateness to markets has also contributed to OEMs finding it necessary to look elsewhere for suppliers.

More importantly, the challenge is positioning for Microsoft, which has for many years come from the top down, whereas Apple has come from the bottom up. Microsoft used its ubiquity as an advantage in the earlier days to get those business users to want the same experience at home. Apple is doing just the opposite by getting business users who want to use the same devices at work as they do at homeóthe so-called consumerization of IT.

But Apple built a sales channel in consumer and is only now reaching out and building a sales channel in the business world. The last Apple store I was in was jammed. The last Microsoft store I was in had one other individual in there and much of what was on display could not be purchased there.

Microsoft has no advantage in consumer, but it does have a huge advantage with its Surface tablet in business. It has a well-defined value-added channel that could put thousands of salespeople on the street making a compelling case for how integration of a Windows tablet into the network is a better option in terms of compatibility, security, etc.

For Microsoft to catch up in the tablet space it has to hit it out of the park in business, and that can only happen if it properly leverages its channel. That's where it should be putting its effort. It's not cool in consumer, and every month that goes by without shipping a product (remember we still don't know when the availability will be there), Apple gains share in both the low and high ends.

Its hastily called press conference to announce a tablet was seemingly a case of back to the future where it is trying to stall the market by making an announcement it is not ready to ship against. The strategy here is to try to get businesses to wait and see what Microsoft brings to market. That may work, but Apple is gaining real traction with the channel. Here at UBM Channel, we're seeing an uptick in interest by partners in Apple's advertising and the editorial we commit to the company. In fact, nearly two years ago, data started to show a higher level of interest in Apple stories than in those about Microsoft.

All things considered, the small glimpse we have had of the Microsoft tablet looks to be an interesting offering. The integrated keyboard is a good idea and one that is sure to increase the pressure on using the tablet as a laptop replacement. But in the end, it's the sales channel that can get Microsoft in the game at this point. I'm just not sure that Steve Ballmer realizes it.

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