Does a Microsoft Tablet Have a Chance?
Microsoft is already ramping up its efforts surrounding the Windows Store, the long-anticipated apps storefront for Windows 8. "Enterprise developers have been asking about their path to market with Metro style apps," Ted Dworkin, partner program manager for the Windows Store, wrote in a Dec. 6 posting on the Windows Store blog. "And, in turn, IT administrators have been asking about deployment and management scenarios, such as compliance and security."In a bid to further appeal to the enterprise-tablet audience, Microsoft will give businesses direct control over app deployment, including the ability to restrict employees from downloading certain apps.Some analysts seem optimistic about Microsoft's chances in the business tablet space. "Microsoft, perhaps with the help of Dell, HP and others, could also make a play for the enterprise tablet market, an area where Amazon [with its Kindle Fire] and even Apple lack the sales and marketing for those potential customers," Andrew Eisner, director of community and content for Retrevo, wrote in a December blog posting. Others see Microsoft's task as a more complicated one. "I do think Microsoft can deliver a no-compromises tablet," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group, "the question is whether buyers will pay for one and what this will do to laptop and desktop PC sales where these [tablet-focused] features might not play as well." Although he thinks Windows 8 tablets won't truly hit the market in a broad-based way until 2013, "depending on pricing and features, [Microsoft] could get a late fourth quarter 2012 spike." Still others think that even 2012 is too late for Microsoft to make a concerted tablet push. "For tablets... Windows really isn't a fast follower," Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder wrote in a Nov. 29 corporate blog posting. "Rather, it's (at best) a fifth mover after iPad, Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, HP's now-defunct webOS tablet and the BlackBerry Playbook tablets." In addition, he added, Windows 8 will face pricing pressure from the cheaper Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook tablet. Before Windows 8 tablets begin arriving on store shelves, other tablets will spend 2012 trying to make significant headway against the iPad. In February, RIM will deliver a long-awaited software update to the PlayBook, complete with integrated email, a new video store, calendar and contact apps, and better tethering between the 7-inch tablet and the user's BlackBerry smartphone. Whether that will allow the PlayBook to increase its market share remains to be seen. RIM is planning a new generation of BlackBerry "superphones" for release in 2012, running a similar QNX-based operating system to the one present on the PlayBook; presumably, RIM will push its freshly upgraded tablets as part of its renewed ecosystem. Research firms estimate that Amazon's Kindle Fire will swallow up a sizable portion of the Android tablet market in 2012. In a December report, IHS placed its share at 13.8 percent of the global media-tablet market, well ahead of Samsung (4.8 percent) and HTC (1.3 percent). The $199 Kindle Fire is first and foremost a portable vending machine for Amazon's e-books and streaming content. Although it can store and display documents, and run productivity apps through Amazon's Android apps storefront, it is being marketed primarily as a consumer device. Therefore, even as the device snatches up millions of consumer dollars, it seems unlikely that IT administrators and procurements specialists will run to buy it in bulk for employee use. Samsung, Motorola and other Android tablet makers will, meanwhile, continue to fight for their own share of the business. A growing collection of productivity apps makes Android a more viable platform for businesses, and analysts predict that Android's overall market share will increase in 2012. However, the next version of the iPad-which, if Apple holds to its release cadence, will appear early in the year-could force those various Android manufacturers into playing another round of catch-up against an aggressive competitor.