Microsoft has said that iPad-style tablets, generally referred to as “slates,” that run Windows won’t arrive until the next version of Windows arrives in 2012. This big beast of a WP7 tablet announced at Computex not withstanding, this rules out Windows Phone 7 based tablets. But will Microsoft get left behind if it can’t bring a slate to market before 2012?

As we reported last week, Citi analyst Walter Pritchard believes that it’s not too late for Microsoft to have a “meaningful” share of the tablet market. Larry Dignan at ZDNet highlights one particular area where Microsoft could challenge other vendors: Microsoft Office support.

I agree that Office will be the key to any success Microsoft may have in the tablet market, especially in the enterprise. Millions of workers depend on Microsoft Office applications to do their work. Office for slates could well be the killer app that Microsoft needs to differentiate itself in the tablet market. But success is far from guaranteed.

Apple already offers its office suite iWork for the iPad. And as we’ve reported there are several SharePoint clients and third-party document collaboration tools already available for the iPad. The number of enterprise apps for Android is growing as well.

But as Instapaper creator Marco Arment has written, the iPad just isn’t well suited for office productivity apps. So the real question is whether Microsoft and its hardware partners can figure out a way to actually turn slates into well-oiled work machines.

Previously we looked at Moorea, a OneNote-like application that ZDNet’s Mary Jo-Foley suggested could be Microsoft’s killer app for tablets. At the very least it shows that Microsoft is thinking about how to create a different type of tablet experience.