Can Microsoft still crash the tablet party?

Citigroup analysts believe Microsoft – while somewhat fashionably late – still has time to crash the lucrative tablet party.

Indeed, Citigroup is seemingly optimistic enough to project Redmond could actually corner “meaningful market share” in 2013 and beyond.

“Of course this is dependent upon the company’s ability to deliver a competitive operating system on partner hardware that is priced competitively,” the analysts clarified in an investors note obtained by Reuters.

According to Citigroup, Microsoft may debut a tablet-optimized version of “Windows Next” before it launches a PC iteration – with a beta OS expected by September 2011. 

However, the analysts conceded it was unlikely such a tablet and OS would be a “raving success,” as investors overwhelmingly believe the next version of Windows will not significantly boost Microsoft’s standing in the consumer devices market.

Still, Redmond could theoretically claim a respectable piece of enterprise market share if its tablets were adopted by the corporate masses.

Success in the enterprise space is likely to be decided by two primary factors: business-oriented apps and UI (user interface).

Microsoft obviously has the former covered by default (seamless Office integration), although the latter has yet to be determined, and would almost certainly would have to be on par with or exceed Apple’s intuitive iOS interface.