Microsoft plans to sell 3 million Surface tablets in 2012. Too few or too many?

Microsoft plans to sell 3 million Surface tablets in 2012. Too few or too many?

Summary: An IDC analyst says the production target means the slates won't only be sold in Microsoft retail stores.

TOPICS: Microsoft, Tablets

IDC analyst Bob O'Donnell recently told our sister site CNET that Microsoft is gearing up to produce 3 million Surface tablets -- primarily the Surface RT flavor powered by ARM chips, due on October 26, and not the Intel-based Windows 8 Surface version, due a couple of months later -- by the end of the year. Is that number wishful thinking or too conservative?

While 3 million seems like a hefty target, it may actually be low-balling demand a bit. In an interview with Wired magazine, Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps points out that Amazon sold nearly 5 million Kindle Fires at the end of 2011. In comparison, Apple reported 17 million iPads were sold in its 2012 third quarter.

Epps tells Wired that this may be a case of Microsoft purposely under-promising, though it may also factor in that Windows 8 tablets will be sold by other manufacturers. While they may not be pleased that they are competing with Microsoft, a number of major brands like Dell, Lenovo, and Samsung plan to build Windows 8 tablets in various flavors.

O'Donnell is skeptical that Microsoft will wind up selling the Surface RT at an eye-popping $199 price point -- though he says the company could do that via subscription fees a la its recent Xbox promotion -- but he does believe that the 3 million production target means one important thing. That amount is far too great for the company to sell just through the handful of Microsoft retail stores: "You can’t build that many products without having a much wider distribution strategy." (Then again, Google has done well selling most of its Nexus 7 tablets through its online store.)

In addition to the Nexus, Microsoft's new Surface RT tablets will be launching around the same time that new Kindle Fires and a mini iPad could be available. While those are smaller slates, they will take some focus away from the Surface debut -- what appear to be conservative production numbers may reflect the ultra-competitive tablet market Microsoft is jumping into.

Topics: Microsoft, Tablets

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  • Microsoft plans to sell 3 million Surface tablets in 2012. Too few or too m

    Too few as the Microsoft Surface is already in high demand and it hasn't been released yet. On the bright side the high demand will create more frenzy for it increasing overall sales. I just have to make sure I"m in line first so I'm guaranteed one.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Whatever the number, I need to pick up mine

      It is the tablet worth waiting for, iPad or Android still feel incomplete and just larger phones.
  • Depends on the Apps

    Buyers will have to wait for a while before enough Metro Apps come up to create an eco-system.
  • Too High For RT

    If Surface Pro were going to be out this year, I would say that number is low. But it seems too high just for Surface RT models... I don't suspect the demand for RT is that high.
  • The Surface RT will sell just fine. There is nothing wrong with this tablet

    I will venture a guess that the rumored iPad "Air", the smaller tablet from Apple, will have more initial unit sales than the Surface RT, however. The reasons are that the two products appeal to different demographics and needs.

    The Surface RT tablets are targeting the adult market for users that do a lot of typing in their apps. The iPad "Air" caters to the teenager and child markets that use touch centric apps and have less of a demand for a dedicated physical keyboard.

    So, when the two tablets are introduced around the same time frame this year (Octoberish), the iPad "Air" should win the Holiday Buying prize. (Kids rule at the Holiday Season)

    That is not to say that the Surface RT tablets will be sales "bombs". Far from it. They will net Microsoft a nice profit for the quarter, IMO.
    • I think you're right but....

      another reason Apple will likely win in sales if the rumored device appears is that its legions of cultists will all buy one or more.
      • Jealous?

        Cylon Centurion
        • I'm relatively new to ZDnet...

          But its quite obvious you are a complete idiot. Almost every post I have come across from you is either offensive or useless drivell and I am pretty sure my 6 year old niece can crap better statements.

          Grow up.
          • Well if you're so new to zdnet

            That means you haven't been toilet trained yet. Maybe Loverock Davidson's mommy can show you how.

            Cylon Centurion
  • Tool for a scribe

    There are a lot of us who want what MS promises in Surface. 3 million is just the tip of the iceberg.

    I hate touch screens. It was a bad idea on the Palm and Handspring. It was a lousy idea on Garmin GPS. Give me a keyboard and a mouse! A real keyboard not the toy demoed on Surface.

    I have and am very happy with S10 running XT. It is portable and runs all the aps I need. It has USB ports to connect to printers, external drives etc. I can use external drives and memory.

    Most tablets don't have the connectivity, aps, or memory expandability I have now. They definitly don't have a decent keyboard, which Lenovo has.

    The features I want in my next portable device are. Thinner, lighter, first quality keyboard, keep my existing aps as is.

    Surface promises something close to that. I would probably prefer it with Windows 7 or even XP ( a chance for a budget option or a high priced model).

    3 milliion makes sense. It is a big enough number to get manufacturing and material costs down. If they can't move that number, Surface will not have succeeded. They or the people quoting them are success oriented.

    There is a lot of built up demand that isn't being addressed. Surface is focusing on that niche.

    My main complaint is the name. "Surface" indeed! Why not "scribe" and use a hieroglyphic style picture of an Egyptian middle kingdom scribe sitting with the device in his lap with the stylus in his hand? Very iconic and focused on real people doing real work.

    I will buy it or something very like it for my next purchase. Not buying anything before I see how the Pro version pans out.
    • Why not "scribe"....

      Because most people will buy this product (especially in RT flavor) to play not work. Play comes first in peoples minds, Apple's bank balance is testimony to that.
      Soundcloud GenthenaZero
      • Windows RT-based tablets for play only? I think not.

        With Microsoft Office 2013 RT included by default, I suspect that many small businesses will be favorable towards Windows RT-based, 10-inch form-factor tablets. And with Microsoft's and Barnes & Noble's NewCo venture giving Microsoft and its customers access to eTextbooks, many uni students will be favorable towards the devices as well.

        This isn't to say that the above users won't use their Windows RT-based tablets for play as well.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • I'll withhold....

          I'll withold judgment until we see just how full featured the Office suite included in Win RT really is.
  • Three million in a year, maybe.

    Not in a quarter. The Kindle sold 5 million ebook readers, not 5 million tablets. The surface is competing directly with the iPad and has no compelling "go to" reason (hint: a keyboard is not a reason; tablets are not laptops and are not used the same way). And I'll go on the record right now as saying the Surface will cost at least as much as a Retina display iPad, but will have the graphics quality of the cheaper iPad 2.
    • And will have competition

      Microsoft will not be the only one with a Windows RT tablet out there as opposed to the iPad or Kindle which are exclusive to a manufacturer.
    • Wrong wrong wrong

      The surface pro has windows and an Ivy Bridge i5, that means it has a full breadth of games that just don't appear on tablets and a processor near 5 times as powerful.

      The surface RT will run on Tegra 3 at a bare minimum. This is twice as fast as the iPad at CPU processing and only a little slower in the graphics department &*without* multithreading on the GPU. With multithreading on the GPU it too can quite easily eat the iPad, but the PS3 has shown how hard it is to use custom chip arrays effectively and the Tegra3 falls over in benchmarks because of this.
      Soundcloud GenthenaZero
    • Let's not forget that the Microsoft Surface (RT) will have Office 2013on it

      And that is a major feature that enterprises will be looking for on tablets. The keyboard isn't the only differentiating thing on the Surface from other tablets. The Surface (along with all other Windows 8 devices) will have the ability to do more multitasking like having to "Modern" applications open side by side.
  • A big ambitious for two months

    It will be hard for the 'Soft to hit 3,000,000 RT slates by Christmas. I think a more makeable goal is 2,000,000. Office RT, the kickstand, the USB port, and the mSD slot are going to be the distinguishing features here. It's true the screen is not going to be as nice as the iPad 3, but I think that device went overkill on the dot pitch anyway. App selection will be a drawback, but I don't think it is a deal breaker. Still think it's a buy at $399 for the 32GB model.
    • Screen

      While opinions will vary, I actually think there's something to be said for a larger screen overall that has a 16x9 ratio. That extra space will be worth a lot more for a number of workflows than a screen quality that most people can do without.
    • I might get one for my mother

      So make that 2,000,001. They will make good adult gifts, but if they are tethered to an iTunes-like ecosystem, I probably will think twice.
      Schoolboy Bob