Citigroup: Microsoft can get 'meaningful' share of tablet market, someday, maybe (and depending on how you define 'meaningful')

Analysts prediction comes with a boatload of caveats and hedges

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My colleague Kevin Fogarty posted an excellent analysis of Citigroup's caveat-laced take on Microsoft's chances in the tablet market.

I agree with everything Kevin wrote, but want to add my own 2 cents to the discussion.

(Also see: Tablet 'amateur hour' not yet over -- for RIM)

Here are a couple of highlights from Citigroup's note to investors, based on this Reuters article, with my observations below each item:

* A tablet powered by Microsoft's Windows Next OS could start shipping "between January 2012 and March 2013," Reuters quotes the Citigroup note.

Right away we're in trouble. That outside date is nearly two years away. What version of iPad will be on the market by then? What version of Android? Apple and Google already are addressing whatever flaws their early tablets have and making fixes. Microsoft will be rolling out its maiden version. One can safely assume it will be far from perfect.

* Reuters writes, "Citigroup was not convinced the product will be a raving success, adding that the overwhelming investor sentiment is Windows Next will not improve Microsoft's position in the consumer devices market."

And this translates into "meaningful share of the market" how?

Citigroup seems to recognize this, cautioning that Microsoft's success in tablets is "dependent upon the company's ability to deliver a competitive operating system on partner hardware that is priced competitively."

Now we get into defining what a "competitive operating system" is. To me that means Microsoft's tablet OS has to be as good or better than what the competition -- which will, at minimum, have a nearly two-year head start -- is offering. Anyone taking bets on that happening?

Priced competitively? Granted, a Microsoft tablet could sell for less than Apple's iPad, but will Redmond be able to underprice all of the Android tablets? Highly unlikely.

Sure, there's the enterprise market, where "customers are accustomed to Windows devices," Reuters writes. But I don't think that argument floats when we're talking about mobile devices. Have you heard any enterprise workers saying recently that they want to hold off on getting iPhones, Droids or iPads until they see what Microsoft comes out with? Laggards aside, the enterprise mobile market isn't patiently waiting for Redmond.

As Kevin notes, Gartner recently forecast 47 percent market share for Apple's iOS and 39 percent for Android by 2015. That leaves 14 percent for Research in Motion, HP, Microsoft and anyone else who wants to take a shot at it.

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