Microsoft Surface sales underwhelm, at an estimated 1.5 million units

Microsoft has sold about 1.5 million Surface tablets, and about two-thirds of those are Surface RT, according to unofficial sales estimates

Microsoft's Surface RT and Surface Pro haven't made much of a dent in the tablet market, according to unofficial sales estimates.

So far, Microsoft has sold roughly 1.5 million Surface devices, Bloomberg reports, citing three unnamed sources "with knowledge of the company's sales." The split in sales is reportedly more than 1 million units for the Surface RT and about 400,000 units for the Surface Pro.

If accurate, those sales figures fall short of some analysts' estimates, and possibly Microsoft's own estimates. Microsoft had reportedly ordered 3 million Surface RT tablets, Bloomberg's sources said, and UBS analyst Brent Thrill had projected Microsoft would sell 2 million of them in the December quarter alone. Other analysts forecast lower sales, with Detwiler Fenton expecting RT sales to top out at 600,000 in the fourth quarter.

Microsoft shrugs

Microsoft has downplayed the need for strong Surface sales, and the company's own expectations don't seem as high as those of industry analysts. Last July, before the launch of Windows 8, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the company "may sell a few million" Surface tablets in the product's first 12 months. Unless sales pick up from now until July, it's unlikely that Microsoft will hit that mark, but it could come close.

In any case, Microsoft has stressed that Surface is more about setting an example for PC makers than about dominating sales. "I'm super-glad we did Surface," Ballmer told MIT Technology Review last month. "I think it is important--and not just for Microsoft but for the entire Windows ecosystem--to see integrated hardware and software."

The question, then, is whether PC makers will feel compelled to play along and launch more interesting Windows 8 tablets and hybrids. It's hard to see that happening as companies like Samsung and Acer publicly voice their dissatisfaction with Windows 8 sales, and as they look to other options like Android and Chrome OS. Instead, they may be drawn by lower licensing costs, which could result in a glut of low-priced touchscreen Windows 8 devices--a far cry from the clever, high-end design of the Surface.

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Jared Newman

PC World (US online)
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