As Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) begins to expand Surface RT and Surface Pro availability, critics continue to wonder how well the tablets are actually selling. The VAR Guy’s response: Sit tight, folks. To use an American baseball metaphor, we’re only in the second-inning of a nine-inning ballgame. Here’s why.
Admittedly, the first inning wasn’t very pretty. Microsoft told PC makers in 2012 that the company planned to introduce its own tablets. Plenty of companies — Acer chief among them — were upset by the news. The first release, Surface running Windows RT, was shaky at best. Initial sales estimates were all over the map. Microsoft didn’t say much, but most third-party estimates were in the neighborhood of one million units. Among the key challenges: Surface RT had a nifty ARM processor but that meant it couldn’t run classic Windows applications designed for x86 platforms.
Then along came Surface Pro, which started shipping in early February 2013. Let’s give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt and say Surface Pro was still part of the first-inning pitch. Early reviews were mixed. The New York Times initially said it was the perfect combination of PC and tablet — allowing customers to standardize on a single device. But when Surface Pro finally arrived, the Times softened its review — noting that battery life and storage questions had emerged. Overall, most Surface Pro reviews were mixed.
Fast forward to the present and Microsoft is expanding Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets to international markets. The company on Feb. 28 said Surface RT tablets in late March 2013 will debut in Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore and Taiwan and Surface Pro with Windows 8 Pro to Australia, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the United Kingdom “in the coming months.” Read between the lines and it sounds like Q2 2013 is a big rollout quarter globally.
The VAR Guy’s View
So what’s the bottom line here? Surface is a long-term Microsoft play. It’s a global play. And it’s a controlled, deliberate roll out. This is a slow-built play. Microsoft is showing patience. Instead of sprinting against Apple iPads and Samsung Galaxy tablets, Microsoft is running a marathon. And the company hopes to gradually hit its stride as Surface expands into more and more countries.
Frankly, it’s a smart strategy. Microsoft took some lumps for delivering Surface RT tablets before Surface Pro tablets. But ultimately, the staggered rollouts helped Microsoft to learn about the market before debuting Surface Pro for sale.
The Middle Innings
Where do we go from here? If the global rollout is inning two, then at some point soon we’ll start to settle into the meat of the game. Those middle innings — set for all of 2013 and early 2014 — will involve:
- More and more sales and partner synergies between Suface, Office 365 and other Microsoft platforms.
- Additional Surface form-factors will emerge. Maybe a big-screen tablet? Maybe a Surface smart phone? Stay tuned.
- Microsoft balancing promotion with third-party Windows 8 tablets.
The Late Innings
The late innings will involve a key Microsoft inflection point. If Surface devices are selling well, Microsoft will keep all of its big bats in the lineup — promoting Surface devices like crazy. But if Surface isn’t selling… We could see changes up and down the Microsoft lineup. And in this case it’s more than a product discussion.
If Surface strikes out, CEO Steve Ballmer could be sent packing.
But let’s keep things in perspective, folks. It’s still early in the game. Microsoft has plenty of swings left — though you wouldn’t know it from some of the skeptical media coverage.