Microsoft is pushing deeper into the mobile sector with the launch of its new tablet device.
However, the new Surface “family” already has a number of obstacles it must overcome that does not bode well for its battle with market leader Apple.
The US-based company has made both the hardware and software for Surface, which comes in two versions – one running an ARM processor featuring Windows RT and one with an Intel Core processor featuring Windows 8 Pro.
Similar to what it is doing in the smartphone arena, Microsoft has licensed out its operating system to tablet manufacturers.
But analysts suggest the company’s decision to launch the Surface before anyone else could be problematic.
“What does it say about the tablets Microsoft is seeing from its OEM partners that they felt the need to launch their own tablet?” asked Ovum’s Jan Dawson.
“Either they are not happy with the devices out there, or they are not satisfied with only taking a license fee from selling Windows based tablets.
“It is a huge vote of no confidence in its OEM partners, who should rightly feel slighted.”
It is possible that Microsoft has been put off working with partners following its experience with Nokia, with whom it has partnered on the Lumia smartphone range.
But Dawson said it is “rarely a good idea” for an OS owner to start competing with its OEM partners.
Analysys Mason’s Ronan de Renesse added that Microsoft “cannot sustain” an aggressive device strategy while licensing Windows on tablets.
As for the product itself, Microsoft is also has problems.
Informa’s David McQueen said pricing, screen size, memory and apps were key to differentiation in the tablet space.
There is praise for the Touch Cover, which Microsoft says will enable significantly faster typing compared with the on-screen keyboard the iPad has.
However, Frost & Sullivan’s Craig Cartier said it fell short on the apps front.
“A device is only as good as the applications available for it, and Apple’s developer ecosystem is white-hot,” he said.
“In the case of Surface, developers will need to rewrite applications for the ARM-based tablet, meaning Microsoft will essentially start from scratch from an apps perspective.
“Microsoft will face not only the challenge of making up ground to catch Apple, but also convincing hesitant developers that its own tablet ecosystem will be strong enough to make the time and investment it takes to develop applications worthwhile.”
This is exactly the same problem the company is up against in the smartphone market.
Ultimately, Microsoft has little choice but to pursue its move into tablets.
“Microsoft’s move in creating its own tablet is the sign that PC manufacturers have lost the game,” said de Renesse.
Added Cartier: “With the PC market stagnating at single-digit growth rates and the smartphone sales growing rapidly, this is not a position Microsoft can maintain for long.”
However, he said Microsoft still lacked a strong presence in the mobile sphere.
“Microsoft can certainly carve out a niche in the tablet market, but current trends suggest this is not a place they will reach quickly or easily.”
The enterprise segment may be one area that it can exploit to its advantage.
McQueen said Microsoft could change the perception that tablets are classed as devices of consumption rather than of productivity.
“If [Surface] 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,” he said.
Dawson is less convinced.
“In theory, it delivers all the benefits of both the tablet-optimised environment and the classic desktop approach and apps, but in reality the versions available to try at the moment are a horrible mishmash of the two worlds that is likely to be confusing for the consumer.”
Operators will be keen to Microsoft overcome these problems and take on Apple’s dominance.
But the jury is very much out on whether it can avoid the relative failures of RiM and Samsung in taking significant market share from the iPad.