Tech Industry

Want to try Surface? Find a Microsoft store, if you can

If Microsoft limits Surface distribution to its stores, as it has said, initial sales likely won't go through the roof.

Microsoft Store in Century City, Calif. Finding a local Microsoft Store will be a challenge for hands-on consumers looking to try out the Surface tablet.
Brooke Crothers

After all of the hoopla this week, you would think the Surface tablet was the end of the PC industry as we know it.

Not so fast, say analysts. What we know so far is that Surface will be sold through Microsoft Stores only in the U.S. -- the online store and brick-and-mortar outlets.

Ever been to a Microsoft Store? Didn't think so. There just aren't that many. I count about 20.

Compare that with the long list of Apple Stores in the U.S.

Here's the challenge: to be a hit, a product has to have sell-through (units shipped that actually sold) in the millions per year, according to analysts.

Microsoft Surface Windows 8 Pro, powered by Intel Ivy Bridge silicon.
Microsoft Surface Windows 8 Pro, powered by Intel Ivy Bridge silicon. Microsoft

So, even if Surface is a good design -- which it appears to be -- it's not clear whether Microsoft can sell that many.

"Just getting them is going to be an issue," said Roger Kay, principal analyst at EndPoint Technologies.

"Clearly availability would need to be expanded," IDC wrote this week in a research note.

But it's not clear that Microsoft even wants to sell millions -- at least initially. "They want to have distribution, but they don't want it to be superbroad," said NPD DisplaySearch analyst Richard Shim, who thinks Microsoft is sensitive about competing too directly with its customers, i.e., PC makers.

And what's a hit product according to Shim? "Back in the day, a million represented a hit product. And now it's shifted an order of magnitude."

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