Almost as soon as it went on sale on Saturday morning, the $999 128GB versions of Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet sold out. Whether buying online from Microsoft or from the Microsoft, Best Buy, Staples, or Future Stops bricks-and-mortar stores, the devices are unavailable, with no estimated availability. You can’t even put your name down for a pre-order.
Sign of a successful launch? That’s harder to say. Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet reports that some stores received just a single device to sell. With stock that thin on the ground, even idle curiosity would likely cause the Surface Pro to sell out. Other stores certainly had more stock: one Ars reader reports the Westfield San Francisco Centre Microsoft Store had dozens of 128GB units, with one person buying 23 of the machines in a single transaction. So Microsoft has certainly sold a bunch of the 128GB Surface Pros—but whether that represents thousands, tens of thousands, or even more, we don’t know.
We do know that 64GB Surface Pros, however, still seem to be relatively abundant, with stores still having stock and Microsoft’s online store still taking orders.
We also don’t know is whether this means that supplies of the 128GB unit are healthier, or that demand for the cheaper unit is lower. One would suspect early demand is tilted in favor of the more expensive device. 64GB just isn’t that much space on a new machine bought in 2013, especially for technically minded early adopters. Add to this the concern about the amount of disk space actually available on the 64GB Surface Pro and it’s plausible it’s simply not that popular.
We also don’t know why the 128GB units are so hard to come by. It’s possible Microsoft has been taken by surprise and is facing higher than expected demand; it’s also possible that its supply chain, which is still pretty new, simply couldn’t produce enough units to cope with even modest demand.
One thing, however, is clear: would-be buyers aren’t happy about it. The comments on Microsoft’s official Surface blog about the lack of availability are increasingly hostile. Commenters note the same low stock levels, with some claiming their local stores received not a single device. In the commenters’ views, Microsoft’s handling of the launch is nothing short of incompetent.
Even if the company has been caught off-guard by demand substantially higher than anticipated, there should at least be the ability to register interest and get in line. People could then know when new hardware does roll off the production line and buy systems on a first come, first served basis.
With Microsoft not taking pre-orders or giving any indication of when the systems will be back in stock, prospective buyers are already looking elsewhere. While nothing else on the market offers quite the same design approach or features of the Surface Pro, if you’re willing to accept slightly different form factors, there are viable alternatives from Samsung (the Ativ Smart PC Pro), Lenovo (the Yoga), or even Apple (MacBook Air). Microsoft can’t afford to leave potential customers hanging for too long or there’s a good chance they’ll go for one of these competing systems.
While the Surface Pro launch is proving frustrating to those interested in the product, there are, for Microsoft, worse outcomes. A glut of Surface Pros sitting unloved and unwanted on store shelves and warehouses would have been even worse than a shortage. Retailers may be frustrated at the lack of stock, but not as frustrated as they’d be with stock they’d have to give away at a knock-down price (as happened not so long ago with the HP TouchPad).
Microsoft could, and should, be doing more to keep potential buyers engaged, and the criticism on this point is well-deserved. But if the company opted to play it safe and go for a more conservative launch rather than flooding the market, that’s an understandable—and arguably even sensible—decision.
via 128GB Surface Pro sells out: High demand, short supply, or both? | Ars Technica.