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Microsoft's Surface 2 midnight launch has everything but buyers

Microsoft's tablet debut is loud and colorful and full of enthusiasm. The only thing it's missing is people that want to buy its new device.

The Microsoft Store in the Westfield Centre mall in San Francisco, Calif. holds a Surface 2 launch event on Oct. 21.
Nick Statt/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- Though Apple is sure to dominate the news cycle with the rollout of new iPads on Tuesday, Microsoft didn't want the coinciding launch of its Surface 2 tablet to go uncelebrated. So it went ahead and decided to throw a simultaneous nationwide in-store launch event -- as is now the fashion with high profile hardware launches these days.

Though unlike its Cupertino competitor, Microsoft's event didn't drive droves of people to pull out their wallets when the clock ticked twelve. In fact, nearly no one I talked with was interested in buying the Surface 2 tonight.

For the company on the verge of a CEO changeover and maneuvering the aftermath of its $7.2 billion Nokia acquisition, the launch of the Surface marks a time when Microsoft is looking to stand steady on its feet and tout its strengths. It's also an opportunity to play up the cool factor it hopes its tablet line can embody and exemplify.

But that enthusiasm, handed down from corporate and turned up to 11 by Microsoft employees, didn't translate to midnight sales. Here in the Microsoft Store's San Francisco location in the Westfield Center -- one of 10 locations holding Surface launch events tonight -- sounds of pulsing pop music and an exuberant staff were intent on creating a frenzied mood outside the neon-awash mall location. Fresh Surface 2's filled the tables and an entire wall of connected, colorful monitors played Microsoft ads on loop.

Roughly 50 people had assembled by the time the Microsoft Store's doors opened at 10 p.m. It was an admittedly small crowd -- when compared with the standard Apple devotion, albeit for the more-hyped iPhone launches -- though the line remained steady even as more and more attendees filed into the store. Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro models are set to go on sale at midnight.

Read: CNET's Microsoft Surface Pro 2 Review

Read: CNET's Microsoft Surface 2 Review

As for what types of Microsoft fans decided to come out for the event, it was a mixed bag, but one thing was for sure: not many were there to actually buy the Surface 2. Multiple groups of attendees said they simply received invites from a friend who worked in the store and had no intention of buying the tablet at all, let alone pick one up that night.

Ernie Pang, CEO of mobile games company Bake450, immediately answered "no" when asked if he was interested in buying a Surface 2. "Who is?" he added. "The hardware is great, but it doesn't complete the package." Pang said his company would love to develop for Surface and Windows Phone, but said "it's not just not there yet."

"I don't really subscribe to the whole tablet thing," said Tim Wingerter, one of those waiting in line prior to the 10 p.m. opening. "But I think their [Microsoft's] problem is awareness, and I'm a huge advocate," he added. So Wingerter came out, despite also having no intention to pick up a Surface. As an avid Windows 8 fan -- who also happens to be a Google employee, he admitted with some reticence -- he felt like showing up in person was the best way to show support.

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To incentivize individuals, Microsoft hired Roger Craig, a former 49ers football player from the 1980s, to do meet-and-greets. It also held a competition in which users would play memory games at different Surface 2 stations for various prizes, as well as a chance to win a trip to a Pitbull concert in Florida. Neither seemed to generate too much excitement in attendees.

A competitor in the Surface challenge said he was planning on buying a Surface 2 Pro, but next week. The one device he would be purchasing was the standard Surface 2, for a company giveaway. Another had no idea if the Surface 2 was even in stock, though he had just entered the store and said he was considering purchasing one if it were.

One of the stranger sights was a group of three individuals wearing what could only be described as skin-tight ninja suits. Allegedly, they were asked to come by due to their enthusiastic dancing. "They were the only store that would let us in," one of the masked individuals said.

Still, all claimed to be devout Microsoft fans that, if they had the money, would stick around to buy the new tablet. An hour into the event, the three left, making sure to dance their way back through the line, which had slimmed to roughly 20 individuals.

Within a half hour of the Surface 2 going on sale, the line was empty, but the music was still blaring.