Microsoft said it had increased production of its Surface tablet running Windows RT, following earlier reports that it had cut its orders due to weak consumer demand. More significantly, the company also said it will expand its retail presence for the device, “as soon as mid-December”.
According to Steve Schueler, corporate VP for Retail Sales and Marketing for the company: “Our plan has been to expand the retail presence for Surface after the first of the year. Based on interest from retailers, we are giving them the option to carry Surface with Windows RT even earlier.”
Earlier reports said that Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, had said sales of the device had been “modest”, although the company’s PR department argued that this was actually a reference to the company’s approach to availability, in terms of markets and channels. It was also claimed that the company had cut its orders by two million units, after failing to ignite customer demand.
With Surface marking Microsoft’s own-brand debut in the tablet space, and also introducing the ARM version of Windows to the market, the company really needs Surface to generate some degree of success – for PR purposes, if nothing else.
But the company also has a tightrope to walk: as a provider of operating systems to third-party vendors, it has to be careful not to undercut partners who are also looking to offer Windows RT-powered tablets, thereby providing additional competition in an already tough market.
With Surface being something of a “premium” product, Microsoft also has the challenge of luring customers away from established market leader Apple – which has four generations of iPad under its belt, and a thriving content and apps ecosystem.
Microsoft will also next month introduce another device to the Surface line, this time running the full version of Windows 8 – and therefore offering compatibility with a much wider range of existing apps.
Regardless, Microsoft really needs to expand Surface distribution in order to give itself the broadest possible opportunity for success. As an unproven device, limiting availability makes little sense, especially if demand through existing channels is not exhausting supply.