Microsoft "hasn't got a hope in hell" of getting any traction with its Surface tablets if it only chooses a limited distribution model, according to analyst Context.
Yesterday, the software giant finally broke its silence on its tablet channel strategy and revealed that 10 US resellers will become the first to be able to sell the Surface, with more countries' channel plans set to be announced soon.
Microsoft has not said if its Surface partner programme will eventually be open to all resellers in the US, but Context's founder Jeremy Davies said that a much wider distribution model is needed for success when the tablets become available on a bigger scale.
"Unless you're up there with the big boys, [and] you've got a distribution strategy which is like that of Lenovo, HP and Acer, then you haven't got a hope in hell," he said.
"Where [the Surface] is really going to take off is either if they do some massive deals with an enterprise – maybe a multinational will buy 50,000 of them – but the real test of these things will be in the SMB space.
"The only way you get to the SMB space is you get in with the distributors with a good selection of resellers and you really work with them to get the marketing right and get the pricing right. If we see Microsoft come in and pick off a couple of small or medium-size local [firms] in the countries, they're hobbling from the beginning."
Microsoft announced yesterday that the 10 resellers in the US who will get first dibs on the tablets will be joined by distributors Tech Data and Ingram Micro, and Davies added that getting in with the likes of these large disties is the key to mainstream success.
"They have to get up there with the likes of Tech Data and Ingram and they are to have that massive push. If they do that, [the Surface is] in with a chance," he added.
"They have to have a credible alternative to the likes of Lenovo, Acer, HP, Asus and Samsung – otherwise they will be down there in the one, two or five per cent range [in the market-share rankings] and they will not move."
Davies added that if Microsoft sticks with its limited reseller strategy, it will not be enough to get big enough traction.
Resellers in the UK have been keen to sell the tablets and have been left frustrated with the vendor's silence on its channel plans since its first model, the consumer-focused RT, was launched last autumn. Davies said that despite the long silence, if the product is that good, it can make headway.
"I don't think they've missed the boat, there is always an opportunity for those who have a good product at a good price which is available and has good marketing funds and a partner programme behind it," he said.
"The fact they kept quiet might be good – you don't want to hype things and then not deliver. If they've got Xbox-type ambitions, they have to push it hard. I've not seen it so far, but they might surprise us."
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