Microsoft offers only one-year Surface warranty, despite EU law

Summary:Microsoft is offering only one-year warranty for the enterprise-favored Surface tablet, while EU law dictates it should be "at least two." Didn't Apple recently get stung for this kind of behavior?

Microsoft's Surface tablet may arrive in the hands of European customers with only one-year warranty, according to the software giant, despite European law dictating that electronic devices and hardware must come with at least a two-year warranty.

On Microsoft's Surface U.K. product pages, the software giant turned tablet maker clearly states the device will come with a "1-year hardware warranty." It adds: "Surface comes with a guaranteed one-year limited warranty. If you'd like additional protection of your Surface, you can purchase an extended support plan (Microsoft Complete for Surface)."

Source: Microsoft Store (U.K.)

Searching about on Microsoft's site pages, it appears nearly constantly that the Surface only has a limited hardware warranty of one year. For example, from the "Microsoft Surface Limited Hardware Warranty FAQ," it says:

What is covered by the Microsoft Surface limited hardware warranty? 

The limited hardware warranty covers defects in design, materials and workmanship in your purchased Microsoft Surface hardware unit for a period of one (1) year. Additionally, it covers the lamp for 90 days. 

But interestingly, Microsoft's Surface U.K. front page quite unequivocally states that the "standard" limited warranty gives the user two years in which they can return the tablet if it malfunctions or ceases to work. 

Screen Shot 2012-10-19 at 16.23.58
Source: Microsoft Surface U.K.

Clicking the link points to the "EMEA Manufacturer's Warranty," a PDF file that has been composed offline and uploaded to the Web. It's not a webpage that can be modified with a 'delete' here and an 'addition' there. In here, it states:

 1. Warranty 

(a) For one (1) year from the date You purchased Your Microsoft Hardware or Accessory from an authorized retailer ("Warranty Period"), Microsoft warrants, only to You, that the Microsoft Hardware or Accessory will not malfunction due to a defect in materials or workmanship under Normal Use Conditions. 

Crucially, it states the "warranty period is one year. But then it says:

 (c) IF YOUR COUNTRY’S LAW GIVES YOU ANY IMPLIED WARRANTY, INCLUDING AN IMPLIED WARRANTY OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, ITS DURATION IS LIMITED TO THE WARRANTY PERIOD. Some Countries do not allow limitations on how long an implied warranty lasts, so this limitation may not apply to You. 

EU consumer law does give an 'implied' warranty of two years. However, this "duration" is limited to the "warranty period" which is one year. It's also worth noting that in the PDF document, there is not one mention of the word "two."

In there is another link that points to the Microsoft U.K. warranty page -- which currently doesn't exist -- suggesting either Microsoft is offering one year that may flout EU law, or it offers two years but the firm can't seem to make its mind up.

Something's not right here. 

Earlier this year Apple was slapped with a fine by one European member state for doing the same thing.

Apple was fined €900,000 ($1.2m) by the Italian antitrust authorities in December for failing to inform its customers of their legal consumer rights. The Cupertino, CA.-based technology giant appealed but lost the case. 

Soon after, Apple modified its European website pages to clarify how the firm deals with warranties. However, criticism came in thick and fast after the firm was accused of granting a repair or replacement of their iPhone, iPad, or Mac products "after" a customer takes delivery of the product, while EU law says "when" the customer takes delivery.

Such subtle nuances between what the EU said and Apple said put the onus of blame on the customer, rather than the manufacturer. After all, you rarely find problems with devices after you open the box -- it's a few hours, days or weeks down the line when faults and problems emerge if there ever are any.

Following that, the EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding threw in her two-euro-cents (also US$0.02) in to the argument, penning a letter to European member state ministers to determine whether or not Apple should be probed for its warranty practices.

In the letter , Reding said: "Apple prominently advertised that its products come with a one-year manufacturer warranty but failed to clearly indicate the consumers' automatic and free-of-cost entitlement to a minimum two-year guarantee under EU law."

"These are unacceptable marketing practices," she added.

But Reding may have to expand that to the rest of the market, as it seems many hardware and electronics manufacturers may be affected by it.

It seems that most products on the market, not excluding Microsoft's Surface or Apple's bevy of iProducts, come with a one-year warranty, with the often choice of extending the warranty through a premium service through that company or a third-party.

(Side note: It's worth noting that though Google offers a one-year warranty on its Nexus 7 tablet in Europe via the tablets manufacturer ASUS, Google points to the EU's pages on consumer rights and states: "This additional warranty does not affect your legal rights." It doesn't answer why ASUS only provides a one-year warranty, but we've put in questions to Google and we'll update the piece if we hear back.)

In a recent article, PC Pro's Nicole Kobie questioned why the EU probed Apple's warranties, but "nobody else's?" The fact is that Europe often can't intervene unless a complaint has been made. This is one of the many reasons why Microsoft is faced with a current antitrust suit, because not only does it have a majority of the market share in the browser space still -- a monopoly -- but it's also accused of abusing its position in the operating system space to boost its browser's market share.

One should also factor in that Microsoft has faced previous antitrust complaints before. What Microsoft is accused of now in relation to the "browser choice" fiasco is breaking the terms of its agreement with Europe, rather than an all-out separate suit.

Until someone actively complains about Apple bundling Safari in with its OS X-powered Mac or iOS-powered products, or even Google including Chrome with its Chromebooks, the EU or its respective member states' authorities won't budge. 

Confirming this, a European Commission spokesperson told ZDNet this morning that there was no comment to give at this stage, because: "We have not been alerted so far about the Microsoft practice." She added: "The Apple problem had been brought to our attention by the consumer watchdogs from 11 EU Member States," as it is the member states who enforce the EU consumer protection laws in their locale, rather than the European Commission directly. 

The U.K.'s Office for Fair Trading, who enforces the EU laws in the U.K., said it was "unable to comment on individual cases like this," but is "happy to consider any evidence sent to us."

We've also asked for comment from Microsoft U.K., but did not hear back at the time of writing. We'll update the piece if we get a reply. 

(via The Inquirer)

Updated at 11:30 a.m. ET: with additional detail.

Topics: Microsoft, Android, EU, Google, Smartphones, Tablets, United Kingdom, Windows

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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