What if they threw a product launch and potential customers came -- but the product didn't?
That seems to be what's happened with the 128 GB model Microsoft's Surface Pro, which officially "launched" on February 9.
Microsoft didn't take pre-orders for either the 64 GB or 128 GB Intel-based Surface Pro devices, unlike the case with its previously launched ARM-based Surface RT devices. Because of this, a number of customers planned to go to the closest Microsoft Stores, Best Buys, Staples and Future Shops in the U.S. and Canada to try to get their hands on a Surface Pro on day one.
But once they got there, many said they discovered their stores had very few of the Surface Pro 128 GB models and in some cases, equally few of the 64 GB ones.
I received e-mails from a few readers who made treks to their local stores on Saturday morning only to discover stores received a handful, or in some cases, just one 128 GB Surface Pro. Some stores still have 64 GB Surface Pros on hand as of February 10. Users can't order these devices online via the Microsoft Store, Best Buy or Staples sites because they are "sold out."
(ZDNet's Matthew Miller was one of the lucky ones who did get a 128 GB model, but it took lots of persistence and a 50-mile drive each way for him to get one.)
I checked the Union Square New York City Best Buy store -- which was supposed to be central location for Microsoft's Surface Pro launch at midnight on February 9. (Planned launch festivities were cancelled due to the blizzard which hit the Northeast on February 8, but Best Buy was still intending to stay open for the midnight launch, last I talked to a store representative.)
The Best Buy page is providing conflicting information. In one place, I received notice there were still Surface Pro 64 GB models available in the Union Square store as of the close of business on February 9. The main availability page for the 128 GB version shows that none of the Best Buy New York area stores has 128 GB models and Best Buy isn't allowing users to order them.
Microsoft isn't explaining -- at least so far -- what caused the supply shortage. Instead, via a February 9 Surface Blog post, Microsoft officials are only saying:
"Customer response to the launch of Surface Pro has been amazing. We’re working with our retail partners who are currently out of stock of the 128GB Surface Pro to replenish supplies as quickly as possible."
I've emailed the Surface team to see if anyone would say more about the reasons for the supply shortages. No word back so far.
The vast majority of the comments responding to the February 9 post are fairly scathing. Those claiming to have been excited about purchasing a Surface Pro on day one said they are frustrated by how badly the launch was botched. Some commenters said they thought Microsoft intentionally limited supply so as to be able to claim it had sold out of devices. (C'mon, guys. Don't you think the Softies would rather have the money?) Others blamed the retailers for failing to order enough devices.
Microsoft originally intended to make the Surface Pro available in January 2013. Officials pushed the launch back to February 2013 without any explanation for the delay.
The Surface team recently did a Reddit Ask Me Anything Q&A session, sharing some more information about its Surface Pro decisions and plans. The move received praise from many press and customers who've been starved for real communication about the Surface. Here's hoping the team will keep that momentum going with more about the trials and tribulations of supply-chain management.