Microsoft Surface with Windows RT tablet sales disappoint in fourth quarter

Microsoft Surface with Windows RT tablet sales disappoint in fourth quarter

Summary: Market research suggests fewer than a million units were sold, while Apple sold more than 22 million iPads in the quarter. But the low sales and high returns are similar to the launch of the original Amazon Kindle Fire.


Unlike Taylor Swift's new album, Microsoft's Surface RT tablet didn't go platinum in the last quarter of 2012, according to data from two market research firms.

Yes, more than a million of the tablets may have shipped, but that doesn't mean they were sold. In fact, depending on which source you listen to, far fewer than a million Surface slates have been purchased.

IHS iSuppli told our sister site CNET that despite shipping over 1.25 million Surface units, Microsoft only sold about 700,000 of them. Even worse, return rates for the Surface RT were deemed "high," owing perhaps to the learning curve surronding Windows 8/RT. Analyst Rhoda Alexander did suggest, however, that the low initial sales and high returns was reminiscent of the Amazon Kindle Fire's entry into the market.

Meanwhile, International Data Corporation (IDC) reports that about 900,000 Surface RTs were shipped in the fourth quarter, just missing out on reaching the top five for tablet shipments. In comparison, Apple shipped over 22 million iPads, while Samsung and Amazon shipped more than 13 million Android-based tablets. Obviously, not all of those items shipped were sold, and IDC mobile devices program manager Ryan Reith said reaction to the Surface was "muted."

Reith suggested that cost may be a factor in the Surface's lackluster sales. So it will be curious how well the Surface Pro will do once it's released on February 9 (or the 8th at the Union Square Best Buy in New York), given that it's even pricier than the Surface RT.

Are you surprised by the Surface RT's first sales numbers? Do you think it will take a significant turn upward in the future? Let us know your thoughts in the Talkback section below.

Topics: Microsoft, Tablets, Microsoft Surface

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  • because i'm waiting for the surface pro

    yep, the surface pro!
    • RT

      The Surface RT is an excellent tablet, far better than any Android tablet. They haven't sold too many and their are a few reasons for that:
      1. The iPad is very good
      2. People are buying the tablet that they know, the one that their friend already have
      3. Apple is in fashion, it makes you look smart and in vogue
      4. The Surface was introduced to the market very badly. It was available only through the Ms store for a long time and there was no way of trying it in many places around the globe, including here in Canada.
      5. The RT thing was not very received. It's windows without being fully Windows.
      6. Bad press. Every blogger and journalist has bashed this product. It seems like the new kid on the block, the one made my the Evil Microsoft was doomed
      7. The surface pro was also announced. Some are waiting for it
      8. The bad press around Windows 8
      9 The windows 8 learning curve

      I did not take any of these factors into consideration when I bought mine and I don't regret it at all. The Surface will probably fail and it's a shame because it's a useful tablet, I mean really useful. Since I got mine, I find my iPad to be a bit "Passé". IOS should evolve, iTunes also.

      Here's a few things the Surface RT Dows better than my iPad:

      1. Remote desktop from out the box
      2. Office app from out the box
      3. Print directly to any Bluetooth printer
      4. Browse a network, add content to my Surface without a stupid and controlling application like iTunes
      5. Horizontal layout of the apps. Try it for a while, you'll understand.
      6. Integrated keyboard, detachable keyboard.
      7. Split windows, dual apps on the screen.
      8. Multiple user accounts
      9. Overall feeling of owning one

      You should give a try.
      • Not predictive typing obviously

        "Here's a few things the Surface RT Dows better than my iPad:"
        • Best to check

          ... for some of the tells of non-native language use before calling out on grammar/spelling.

          I would wager that bouchard speaks vastly better English than you speak what I presume is French. ;)
      • No surprise at all

        People just plain looked at it and said I'll keep what I have...............
        Over and Out
      • Android tablets

        "far better than any Android tablet."

        Maybe technically, but not in popularity. From the article, the Surface RT shipped 900,000 units; Samsung and Amazon (not the only two Android tablet makers) shipped 13 million. And I really like the Asus Transformer Prime that I've got.
        • The same was said about Android vs iOS years ago

          and look at the shipment number then compared to now.

          Did anyone really expect Surface to sell millions and millions of tablets at release?

          Microsoft was late to the 10 inch tablet market. Now that the tablet market is moving to smaller more portable devices, microsoft will most likely be late to that as well.

          Hopefully Windows8 tablets get some popularity so that it forces iOS and Android to incorperate more features and move towards true post-pc devices.
          • Re: The same was said about Android vs iOS years ago

            The difference is that the Android market is full of aggressively-competing players, free to try out different ideas (and make mistakes) without getting permission from Google for everything they do.

            Surface, on the other hand, comes only from one supplier that is deathly afraid of cannibalizing its own desktop Windows and Office cash cows. Microsoft's mobile division, in other words, is perpetually hampered by having to compete with one hand tied behind its back.
          • So your theory is that Microsoft is afraid of cannibalizing

            PC sales much like the iPad and Android are currently doing?

            Is that really the plan you want to go with?
          • Microsoft's issue

            Is more about cannibalizing... or otherwise ruining... the fundamental PC industry model. They do have a hand tied behind their back -- Microsoft can't release a price-competitive Surface, because they have to protect the OEMs. Apple has very low per-unit software costs, a few bucks in IP licensing. Android's not much more, plus another $10 if the OEM wants all of the Google stuff pre-installed. Microsoft charges $95 per tablet for software (RT+Office is the only option). So that's at least $150 disadvantage at retail for any OEM. Microsoft has to charge similarly, or there won't be any OEMs. That's why the Surface RT hardware seems so weak for what you're paying, versus Apple or any number of Android devices, which offer more flash, faster SOCs, and better/higher-rez screens for less cash.

            It's not really about protecting the PC itself, but the PC market status quo. Microsoft has chosen to basically tell the OEMs that Surface products are not industry changing competition, but perhaps more like Google's Nexus devices -- just a template for how they see this kind of device. They could drop the price dramatically, which would certainly boost Surface RT sales, but they'd kill the OEM RT market (which isn't going that well anyway, so it's probably not permanently off the table).
        • That's silly

          The Surface RT is a middle-of-the-road tablet. There's nothing unusual about it at all other than running Windows RT. If that's what you need, it's an option. Otherwise, it's overpriced and way behind the times, running the slower version of the Tegra 3, with a low resolution screen by 2011 tablet standards, a proprietary video output rather than the HDMI everyone else supports, etc.
      • Interesting...

        "Remote desktop out of the box"? The only person I know who purchased a Windows RT tablet (picked up while south of the border in Seattle) had to get an app to allow using remote desktop.

        Same person found that use her Surface RT legally, she had to purchase a license for Office 2013 Home and Business as the EULA precluded her from using Office other than for personal home use. She also was very disappointed to find that there is no way to add Outlook and the built-in mail app (to quote her) "sucks big time" and makes her tablet almost useless for work purposes -- the sales slug in Seattle implied that Outlook would be available in the final version. Nor is she able to connect to any of our Cisco VPNs which makes her Surface pretty much useless for management tasks from outside the corporate network. BTW, her old iPad connected to a Cisco VPN out of the box.

        OTOH, she was pretty happy with her purchase for non-work purposes until the Windows update that broke her tablet's ability to connect to Windows Update and the Windows store. Suddenly, it all felt so very familiar.

        Go, Canucks, go!
      • Surface is great except for the display

        I think the surface does have many advantages, as you state. I think Windows 8 and the software is fantastic. But the one thing that has kept me from buying it is the incredibly fuzzy low res screen. I have an iPad 3, it looks amazing. I have an HTC 8X Windows Phone. Its screen is even better than an iPad 3. But there's just no way I can browse the web with a surface and not feel like I'm staring at a lite brite.

        I do understand the PRO fixes this, and that unlike the iPad, the PRO is a full featured OS that you can do whatever you want with. Sadly, I can't afford the PRO.
    • why bother?

      The pro is thicker and heavier than the best ultrabooks for more money. Floppy keyboard + kickstand = laptop you can't use on your lap. Even a MacBook Air let alone one of the cheaper options beats it on a lot of points.
      • I think you are very mistaken

        The SurfacePro beats or meets the macbook air in almost every aspect.

        The surface pro has a higher screen resolution and 10 point touch screen, can be used as a pure tablet as well as a laptop, can fully run desktop and app software, weights less than any ultrabook. Same battery, cpu, ram, storage, ports, etc.

        The only major thing that Macbook Air/Ultrabooks really do better is the screen is self supporting and has adjustable angles.

        Otherwise the SurfacePro offers far more flexability for someone looking for more portability and usable options.
        • Re: The SurfacePro beats or meets the macbook air in almost every aspect.

          Oh, really?

          Where is it's Thunderbolt port? Where is the ergonomic keyboard and the wonderful trackpad?

          It is neither good tablet, nor good notebook. That it runs Windows is not anything to boast about in 2013.
          • Perhaps you missed the word ALMOST?

            You are correct there is no thunderbolt port, but there is a minidisplay port.

            Mabook air doesn't have an ergononic keyboard either, but Surface does has a multitouch trackpad as does macbook air.

            Surface is a very good tablet and a pretty good ultrabook. Cry about windows all you like.

            Surface Pro also has a rear facing camera, digitized pen with pressure sensativity, twin antena wifi for better reception, full HD screen resolution and more.

            It is a fine tablet and a fine ultrabook. Sorry you don't like windows, but that is pretty evident in your opinions and "facts"
        • If you say so

          The Surface is a kludge. Kind of like The Homer automobile.
    • I'm waiting to see the Surface Pro too, before buying

      Maybe next to each other I'll still go with Surface RT, but no harm in waiting to see both offerings.
  • 750000 was always my number

    Even before sales starting... Many said I was wrong and sometimes not in a polite way :P