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Diverging Opinions On Microsoft Surface Pro Launch

Redmond, Wash. – Microsoft’s launch last week of the Surface Pro tablet is receiving mixed reviews from analysts. 2/15/2013 07:01:00 AM Eastern

Redmond, Wash. – Microsoft’s launch last week of the Surface Pro tablet is receiving mixed reviews from analysts.

Views on the introduction run the gamut from calling it normal to a failure and to too early to call.

The one fact everyone agreed upon is that the Surface Pro quickly sold out.

However, that very fact has brought up two schools of thought from analysts. First, that there was good reason for Microsoft and the retailers to not bet heavily on the new tablet. Second, that Microsoft wished to create buzz around its latest entry by shipping few units thus being able to claim they quickly sold out.

The tablet was available at Best Buy, Staples, direct from Microsoft and in its stores on Feb. 9 and quickly became a hard product to find. The 128GB model, at $899, quickly sold out and as of Feb. 15 finding the 64GB version is still difficult.

Exactly how many Microsoft Surface Pro units have sold during its first week has not been released by the company, but the general consensus among analysts is each store received between two and six units.

Customer complaints and anger on social media sites have been loud and plentiful about the lack of product, but Steve Baker, industry analysis VP for The NPD Group downplayed those comments saying the launch was handled properly by all involved.

“One month ago stores had to decide how many to hold. Stores tempered their purchases due to the Surface RT response and that only a few days out the Pro only received a few mediocre reviews,” Baker said.

This led to retailers keeping their orders modest so they did not get stuck with inventory.

“The trend ahead of the launch showed they had to be cautious and nobody thought it would be a blowout hit,” he said, adding “and now it sells out and everyone is upset.”

Michael Gartenberg, research director with Gartner, noted that new products often outstrip supply and he said Microsoft is quickly restocking.

Consumer interest in the Pro has been strong since it was unveiled last June, said Tom Mainelli, IDC’s research director for tablets, and the shortage this week should not deter them from waiting a bit longer.

Gurpreet Kaur, tablet industry analyst for Gap Intelligence, has another view calling the shortage a manufactured event by Microsoft.

“To me, Microsoft's sending out such a limited number of SKUs to stores is a big marketing gimmick. They want to send the message that we are as cool as Apple and that we also sell out of tablets within hours,” she said.

Gartenberg downplayed this angle.

“I know there are often ‘conspiracy theories’ when products are scarce but I've yet to meet a vendor that didn't want to seek as much of their product as possible,” he said.

Kaur added that issuing so few units tied to the meager marketing effort placed behind the Surface Pro, as compared to what the RT received last fall, combine to make this introduction a failure.

“I am not sure how many consumers even know there is a Surface Pro tablet, let alone the differences between the Surface RT and Pro,” Kaur said.

Now that the Pro is on the market the next task for Microsoft is educating the consumer, Gartenberg said.

Baker said the Pro also sold well because this type of product is in demand. He pointed to the healthy sales of hybrid-style Ultrabook/tablets last fall as an indicator that consumers are interested in a high-powered tablet that can operate as a laptop, even at a higher price point.

Mainelli agreed saying it is still too early to say whether the launch can be considered a success. Even measuring that success could prove difficult because the Surface Pro falls between the lines of a tablet and hybrid laptop so choosing and against each it has both strengths and weaknesses.