Scratching The Surface


The surprise announcement that Microsoft is launching its own tablet is an attempt to stall the market, reclaim its hold on the desktop, and gain lost ground in the mobile market. Admittedly, the device looks pretty slick, but there are more questions than answers. What is the price point, what is the availability and even more important, how is Microsoft going to distribute the product?

The move is fraught with risk as it alienates the company’s biggest and most long-standing customers -- the hardware OEMs -- and, to date, has made no mention of the channel, a channel that Apple has been successfully courting for the past year.

Microsoft appears to be taking a consumer route with one model by announcing that its go-to market is through its retail stores and online. While Microsoft has had success with its Xbox in the consumer space, it faces some formidable challenges if it thinks it can stop the Apple consumer juggernaut. The iPad has three versions under its belt, an installed base of 55 million and more than a half million apps in its iTunes store.

Microsoft’s advantage is clearly in the corporate IT space, where it has 1.25 billion seats of Windows installed on PCs and a partner base of 500,000, with more than 10,000 of them Gold certified. It would be a huge missed opportunity if the company does not leverage the channel selling into corporate IT, upgrading its current infrastructure, and integrating mobile services and devices into the network.

And even if the company does leverage the channel, it isn’t going to be a slam dunk. The bring-your-own-device phenomenon has already taken hold, and Microsoft doesn’t have an app store yet. Until it can get a sea of developers to build apps on its platform and put them in an app store, the Microsoft Surface tablet is just going to be another device.

In fact, CRN is an actual example of the problem Microsoft faces. Just this week, we submitted code to the Apple iTunes store for a CRN app for the iPad, which we hope to launch next month. Why did we develop on the iPad first? Well, because three out of four of our readers -- you -- already own an iPad. The iPad is the go-to travel companion, and we increasingly see you going to our site via an iPad or an iPhone.

So a decision was made that each day CRN will create a newspaper of the top channel stories as well as offer additional coverage in the form of images, videos and slideshows. We will also allow you to focus on the news in key technology areas -- applications and OSes, cloud, components, data center, channel news, mobility, managed services, networking, security, storage and virtualization -- as well as search for company news of your best partners. For the past six months, our reporters have been working on investigative pieces that can only be accessed through the iPad app -- stories that will help you think about how to grow your business as well as provide thoughtful analysis on the conflicts and trends in the market.

And for right now, we will be watching Microsoft and its tablet moves on the iPad. Should Microsoft leverage the channel and succeed in getting Surface into VARs’ hands and corporate America, then we will have a Windows tablet version of CRN. Should Microsoft choose to ignore the channel, then its platform won’t be an attractive alternative, and it will do little more than scratch the surface in the mobile and tablet market.

BACKTALK: Kelley Damore is VP, Editorial Director
for UBM Channel. You can reach her via e-mail at
kelley.damore@ubm.com.