Microsoft’s surprise announcement of a tablet, the Microsoft Surface, to the red hot and crowded tablet marketplace is drawing mixed reactions from technology players. Some are seeing it as its ultimate comeback, and an attempt to reclaim its lost limelight to other players such as Apple while others have only reacted with barely a shrug.
Channel observers, while awaiting certain crucial aspects such as connectivity and price, also have varying views on the significance of the launch. But one thing they do agree on is that the tablet will add an extra layer of complexity to the management of mobile devices, which channel partners should benefit from.
Supporting the Surface and managing it securely along with a host of other applications will also be an obvious area for the channel to add value.
The main opportunity will be about helping customers integrate and securely manage devices, Thomas Duryea National Practice Manager, Rhys Evans, said.
Corporate policies differ widely on the types of devices that can be used. For instance, the initial use of the iPad in the workplace was primarily by CEOs. But now many companies are toying with the idea of larger-scale roll-outs consisting of hundreds of devices at a time.
Adobe A/NZ managing director, Paul Robson, said, “They are demanding support from their IT business partners in this space, and the channel must prepare for a significant shift in usage towards these devices. This new release increases the options for end users and the increased competition will be great for the market.”
Indeed, some channel participants have taken note and are preparing accordingly.
Webqem owner and chief operating officer, Larry Adler, said being in the business of creating content, this launch has provided his business with the opportunity to provide content on yet another platform.
“Our content needs to be seen and used in multiple locations and anyone not designing content to be used on those devices will be left behind,” he said.
However, Adler stressed the importance of businesses accessing the cost of building and managing the content, as well as a product’s penetration into the marketplace. Webqem will look into monitoring the release, how its content works on it and its adoption and penetration into the marketplace before making the decision to utilise it.
Citrix channel development manager, Tony Edwards, said the company will aim to put its Citrix receiver on the Surface when it becomes available in Australia, to help boost BYOD capabilities.
"As long as we can do that, you could see those devices being used as part of our solutions so that people can bring them into their workplace. It’s another device that will fit into BYOD interests,” he said.
Many point to the impending launch of the much broader Windows 8 – widely marketed as the mobile-friendly, potentially game-changing OS from Microsoft – as the key beneficiary from the launch of the tablet.
Channel Dynamics director, Moheb Moses, said while Surface is just another mobile device in the ever-expanding universe of tablets what it did do was add “an extra layer of complexity for channel partners to design a solution” for mobile that could incorporate a Windows 8, an Android, or any different iterations, he said.
From the channel’s perspective, distributors will be able to make the most of having another device to put out in the market and resellers will benefit by bundling the device with other software or Windows 8 and position it as a unique offering, telecoms strategic planning consultancy Telsyte's senior analyst, Rodney Gedda, said.
Springboard to Windows 8
The release of the first Surface tablets in October coincides with the launch of Windows 8. And, for many, that could mean an important test-case for a larger Windows 8 migration.
The tablet will be “compelling as a hardware platform” for enterprises to ultimately switch to the Windows 8 OS, Kaseya head of mobile development, Robert Munro, said.
Migration to Windows 8 will involve heavy initial support and training, marketing the new OS, with its touch-heavy features, is expected to disrupt many ingrained user skills like using a mouse, keyboard, with new finger gestures, he noted.
“Switching between the two can be disconcerting,” Munro said. The new tablet “will at least start that thinking process,” he said.
However, he warned the connectivity capabilities of the tablet could have a polarising effect on the ultimate adoption of the devices.
Gedda said businesses should start preparing for the Windows devices and Windows 8 operating system by checking application compatibility and getting early release devices from their hardware suppliers to prepare for it.
Ovum principal analyst, Richard Edwards, said the tablets are a good play by Microsoft and create a new marketing opportunity for the channel, which will inject fresh interest into the Windows ecosystem.
In adopting Microsoft’s tablet and Windows 8 technologies, he suggested that businesses should evaluate the value and utility of Surface as they plan hardware refresh programs.
“As Surface will sit comfortably within existing IT infrastructures there will be a strong affinity with business users. However, organisations that have taken bold steps down the iPad route are unlikely to turn back and plot a new course,” he said.
Moses said success for the tablet will ultimately hinge on its compatibility with other Windows 8 devices. That is something that has proved somewhat clunky in other existing tablet devices, and if Microsoft can successfully integrate and make the applications across Windows 8 regardless of the device, it could well restore the company as the leading innovator on the global technology stage.
Microsoft’s tablet foray has also evoked concerns about what impact Surface will have on its relationships with its hardware partners that have come to see it as primarily a software company.
Ovum's Edwards said Microsoft’s route to market with Surface is unlikely to overlap significantly with that of its hardware partners, but it will undoubtedly impact their sales at the margins.
“If Microsoft shares some of its manufacturing expertise with partners then this could mitigate some of the negatives that are associated with Microsoft entering the hardware market,” he said.
Citrix’s Edwards said Microsoft moving into the hardware space could change its relations with its vendor partners.
“No doubt there will be some discussions around Microsoft creating a competitive product for those people who they have worked with but we’ll have to wait and see how that unfolds,” he said.