Microsoft announced its plans for the “Surface” lineup of mobile tablets, to be released later this year. The Surface brings new innovations to the tablet market, including an interesting “touch” keyboard.
Frost & Sullivan Analyst, Craig Cartier comments: “Microsoft has long pursued a stronger position in the mobile industry, something its past efforts have failed to achieve. Despite several initiatives and partnerships, including the high-profile Nokia partnership announced in early 2011, Microsoft still lacks a strong presence in the mobile sphere. With the PC market stagnating at single-digit growth rates, and the smartphone sales growing rapidly (surpassing the number of PCs sold last year and on track to double PC sales in the next year), this is not a position Microsoft can maintain for long.”
“Despite the innovations expected in the recently announced Surface, Microsoft faces an uphill battle in establishing itself in the tablet space,” adds Mr. Cartier. “In today’s tablet market, the conversation starts and ends with Apple. Apple was not the first to release a tablet device, but with the 2010 release of the original iPad, they were the first to succeed at a mass-market level, expanding the tablet market from one of tens of thousands to one of tens of millions. Since then, a host of competitors have rushed to the market with “me too” devices, but despite such high profile brands as Samsung and Amazon trying their hand with tablets, Apple remains dominant with a market share over 60 per cent.”
Looking at one of Apple’s competitors can reveal some insight on the battle which Microsoft faces. RIM’s maligned Blackberry PlayBook, released in 2011. Although the Playbook comes with excellent hardware specifications including an HD screen, and some software advantages over the iPad like support of flash websites, the PlayBook has been a commercial failure to date. Frost & Sullivan sees two main reasons for this discrepancy: applications and cool factor.
“A device is only as good as the applications available for it, and Apple’s developer ecosystem is white-hot,” continues Craig Cartier. “In contrast, RIM recently opened up its formerly anemic AppWorld to allow Android applications to be ported over. RIM will continue to shore up its application ecosystem, but in the meantime, it has not been strong enough to attract customers, or developers, en masse.”
In the case of Microsoft’s Surface, developers will need to rewrite applications for the ARM-based tablet, meaning Microsoft will essentially start from scratch from an applications perspective. Microsoft will face not only the challenge of making up ground to catch Apple, but also convincing hesitant developers that the Microsoft tablet ecosystem will be strong enough to make the time and investment it takes to develop applications worthwhile.
“Secondly, the iPad is simply cool. Apple represents the leading edge of technology to many of its customers, and for them, just as important as the hardware and software of the device itself is the feeling it gives them to carry. It is this feeling that inspires legions of the Apple faithful to camp out at Apple stores worldwide in wait of Apple’s latest device,” adds Mr. Cartier.
“It’s difficult to imagine Microsoft inspiring a reaction of the same scale in its customers, at least upon its initial tablet release. With the might (and investment potential) of Microsoft behind its efforts in the tablet space, 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,” summarises the Frost & Sullivan analyst.