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Let's assume a Microsoft tablet has really sparked a buyer's interest. It's slim, light and they know exactly which they want, and now it's just a question of the bottom line. Microsoft has to break down every barrier that stops people buying its devices and so it has to be fiercely competitive on price.
Microsoft doesn't need to compete with the cheapest of the cheap — after all, most budget Android tablets aren't a pleasure to use because keeping costs down that low has a knock-on effect on the quality of the hardware — but it does need to be cheaper than its equivalent rivals like the iPad or Galaxy Tab family.
If Microsoft want to make a splash in the tablet market, it needs to sell millions of devices to build the critical mass that will generate the ecosystem that it needs. Pricing competitively can help it shift those units — and if Microsoft has to subsidise every single tablet it sells to convince consumers to buy, it shouldn't be shy of doing so.
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So I've got my new tablet, svelte bargain that it was, but now I'm getting a little bored. So where are all the integrated services — the cloud storage, the music store, the movie rentals and downloads?
Microsoft had better make sure that all this is in place, available in as many countries as possible and running like clockwork for the day of launch if it decides to bring out its own tablet, because the competition will certainly be doing the same. Once again, it needs to go further than its rivals, and find new services, new apps and new ideas that will appeal to buyers.
Legacy and enterprise support
Microsoft has got one advantage — or potential disadvantage depending on how you look at it — over Android and iOS in the shape of its massive enterprise legacy footprint. Legacy is a pain for Microsoft: constantly having to make sure your products work with hardware or software released years ago takes time and resources that could go towards The Next Big Thing, but it is, ultimately, worth it in the long run. Nothing will annoy a customer more than realising that the product they bought just two years ago won't work with new features.
iPads are fast becoming the enterprise tablet of choice, but Microsoft has a huge installed user base in this sector that it could play to if it managed to get a tablet right.
Similarly, Microsoft has to make sure that its desktop and mobile OSes play nicely together. Windows is still the most used desktop OS by an eye-watering margin: if Microsoft can get its mobile strategy right to make the two work without any integration headache for the user, Android tablets could really start to look like a bit of a limited option.
Whether or not Microsoft builds a tablet is still up in the air; in many ways it makes little sense for the company to do it itself. But if Microsoft does, it better get these basics right, or it won't stand a chance.
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