Microsoft Surface selling out? We've seen this movie before

Microsoft claims its Surface tablet is selling out. That should give pause to anyone who remembers the first-generation Surface debacle.

Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer with his company's Surface tablet.
Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer with his company's Surface tablet. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Microsoft says its Surface tablets are close to selling out. Hmm...Time for a reality check.

First, a mea culpa. I wrote a story or two last year about Surface selling out. While technically accurate, it belied the catastrophe in the making for the first-generation Surface RT.

And here we go again. "It...looks like pre-order stock of the Surface 2 (64GB) and Surface Pro 2 (256 GB and 512GB) are close to selling out," Microsoft said in its official Surface blog on Wednesday.

That's good marketing, if nothing else. But I'm guessing that doesn't necessarily mean there's lots of demand for the product. It means that Microsoft doesn't have that many on hand.

And even if Microsoft boosts supply, that won't necessarily work out in the long run. A CNET story on Friday said this: "In the case of its first-generation Surface RT device, Microsoft ended up building many more tablets than it could sell ."

And it got uglier after that. In July, the company announced a $900 million write-down for excess Surface inventory and disclosed an underwhelming $853 million in revenue from Surface tablets overall.

So, before we get giddy about Surface 2 "selling out," let's see how this plays out over the long haul.

Yes, it's always possible Microsoft has a certifiable hit on its hands. The Surface Pro 2, powered by Intel's Haswell chip, has much better battery life and sports Windows 8.1. While the Windows RT-based Surface 2 -- which 11,000 pilots at Delta Air Lines will receive -- is thinner/lighter, packs a faster Nvidia Tegra 4, and has a high-resolution 1,920x1,080 screen for the first time (matching the one already on the Pro).

But I'm less optimistic this time around because of all the Windows 8.1 hybrid competition from Microsoft "partners" like Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Sony, Asus, Lenovo, and Acer.

All of the above companies have announced a crush of Windows 8.1 detachables and convertibles that will give Surface a lot more competition than the initial, mostly lackluster designs that came out last fall.

Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 will ship by October 21.

A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment.

(Update: Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 sales page said the 128GB Pro 2 is "out of stock" as of Sunday afternoon PT. As of Sunday night it appeared to be in stock again.)


The Dell XPS 11 is one of many decent Windows 8.1 hybrids set to flood the market.
The Dell XPS 11 is one of many decent Windows 8.1 hybrids set to flood the market. CNET
About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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