Enterprise customers may want to wait until Windows 8-based tablets are rolled out later this year before deciding their tablet purchase, analysts advise. This is because they expect Microsoft's suite of productivity software and cross-platform potential to give it an edge, especially in the corporate space.
Despite Apple taking another step ahead of its competition with the launch of its new iPad in 16 countries across the world on Friday, Michael Kauh, research analyst at Canalys, believed it would "still not be too late for Microsoft to join the tablet party".
"Besides Apple's iPad, there hasn't really been any other tablet which has dominated. Many have come and gone like Motorola's Xoom, and Hewlett-Packard's (HP) Touchpad," he said.
Michael KauhResearch Analyst
Strength in software and cross-platform capabilities
According to Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, Microsoft will have a "tough time in the consumer market given Apple's lead and Android gaining ground".
However, he was optimistic it would succeed in the business sector. "IT directors [that] are looking at tablets [will] like the backward compatibility with Windows apps, and this could give Win 8 tablets an edge over Android and let it compete more aggressively with Apple in this space," added Bajarin.
Rohit Partha, industry analyst for ICT practice in Asia-Pacific at Frost & Sullivan, agreed that Windows 8 tablets would be in a good position due to the expected availability of productivity tools such as Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, that enterprise customers were accustomed to.
"The developers will not have to create a totally different system to make these applications, because Windows 8 will be on both desktops and tablets," he said, pointing out that this may drive momentum in app development for Windows tablets.
Product differentiation would be key though, noted Rhoda Alexander, senior manager for tablet and monitor research at IHS. "User experience has been the biggest pitfall for competitors to date. Apple has a very rich ecosystem built into the iPad, which has been a major component of its success," she said.
"The Microsoft ecosystem is smaller but rapidly growing, with the No. 2 movie store, competitive music services, and solid groundwork laid on building the necessary alliances with TV operators such as Comcast on Xbox," added Alexander. She predicted that content would likely be integrated across multiple devices such as mobile phones and game consoles, which could turn enterprise users into supportive consumers.
The IHS analyst also believed that while Windows 8 tablets would be "playing catch up", she noted that there was strong interest in the product from manufacturers, branded vendors, and customers alike.
Vendors such as Nokia, Samsung and Dell are among those expected to launch tablets based on Redmond's upcoming operating system (OS).
A Dell spokesperson pointed out to ZDNet Asia that the company was "hearing a lot of demand" for a Windows tablet that worked with all the Windows applications.
Kauh added that unlike Apple's iPad, tablets on Microsoft's OS would likely be made in various form factors because of a wider range of manufacturers. This could, in turn, attract more customers to the platform, he said.
Asked if setting a low price would be a factor to gaining market share, most analysts ZDNet Asia spoke to for this article said Windows tablets would have enough features and capabilities to command a price.
Kauh, for one, expected that prices for device models featuring Windows on ARM chips will fall between that of Amazon's Kindle and Apple's iPad.
Microsoft need to play cards right
He went on to note that there could be some obstacles that could hold back the success of Windows 8 tablets though, such as short battery life. "Previous tablets running on Windows 7 drained the devices, they could last for only three to five hours, compared to other tablets that could run for about 10 hours," said the Canalys analyst.
Alexander added Microsoft would need to play its card rights. "How well Microsoft Office performs on the Windows-on-ARM versions is key for corporate customers. If Microsoft limits the functionality, that could create problems," she said.
"Success will also hinge on the overall availability of Microsoft Office on ARM. If Microsoft were to offer that option for other tablets, for instance iPad, that would greatly expand the overall market for Microsoft Office but would potentially limit some of the market opportunity for Win 8 tablets," the IHS analyst stated.