Microsoft might be making its Surface tablet easier to buy in some parts of the world, but in Sweden, those wanting the latest Microsoft-powered hardware will have to be content with Windows 8 tablets from its partners.
In order to draw attention to Windows 8 hardware, Microsoft and Intel are taking the unusual step of opening a physical showroom in the capital of one of Europe's key markets to display tablets running the OS.
The showroom, located at 15 Birger Jarlsgatan in swanky downtown Stockholm, is a bid to fill Swedish stockings with Windows 8 this Christmas and showcase what many retailers in the country are not - the sheer variety of tablets running the operating system.
The showroom, open for one month from this Friday, is a "natural step" in its Windows 8 campaign, according to Microsoft. So far, the campaign has involved a solid run of TV commercials, a reasonable supply of laptops at retailers, but a noticeable a lack of depth in tablet choices that lingers two months after Windows 8 launched.
(The most noticeable omission in Sweden's choice of Windows 8 machines is Microsoft's own Surface tablets. While it's no surprise that the ARM-based Surface RT won't be making a showing at the Windows 8 Intel showroom, there's still no word yet the availability of either the RT or the Intel-based Surface Pro across the Nordics.)
Still, with Christmas approaching, Microsoft will do its best to get Swedes to consider a variety of Windows 8 Intel tablets from HP, Samsung, Acer, Asus and Lenovo.
For those convinced enough by the showroom to actually make a purchase, sales will be left to local online retailer Dustin, which will have booths on location. It may be Microsoft's set-up, but the company won't be taking the orders itself.
The choice of an internet-only retailer is an interesting one: Thomas Floberg, Microsoft Sweden's business group lead for Windows, tells ZDNet the availability of Windows 8 hardware in Sweden is "getting better every day" and that Microsoft has a good relationship with key retailers, such as El Giganten and SIBA - two of the largest bricks-and-mortar retailers in Sweden.
It may be Microsoft's set-up, but the company won't be taking the orders itself
So why not direct customers to those two heavyweight retailers and their physical stores – arguably a more obvious and potentially more lucrative choice than asking an online-only store to provide on-site support for a pop-up shop?
For one, Giganten and SIBA simply don't stock the tablet variety that Microsoft and Intel's Stockholm showroom will offer. El Giganten stocks 30 variants of the iPad, 15 Samsung Android tablets, four Sony Android tablets, but only one Samsung Windows 8 slate. MediaMarkt, as I've reported previously, also stocks a number of Android tablets and iPads but only the one Windows 8 or RT machine, the Asus Vivo Tab RT. The same is true for SIBA and Netonnet.
A question of choice
The Windows 8 selection available from Dustin online however includes Acer's Iconia W700P, Dell's Latitude 10, Lenovo's Atom ThinkPad 2, Fujitsu's high-priced Stylistic Q702, alongside the Asus Vivo Tab RT - the non-Intel Windows tablet most commonly available at physical retail outlets in Sweden.
(While Microsoft's Windows 8 tablets are far from commonly available in Sweden, the company does seem to be making inroads on the desktop. Windows 8 already makes up 2.29 percent of the internet-connected PCs in Sweden, according to Net Applications' figures, suggesting a faster uptake than in other parts of Europe. In the UK, for example, Windows 8 has hit 1.19 percent, while in Germany it's 1.72 percent.)
Microsoft's strategy on tablets seems slightly puzzling at first glance – opening a physical shop with only two weeks to go before Christmas, setting up the shop but leaving the selling to someone else, asking an online shop to become a bricks and mortar retailer, and leaving Surfaces – the products that have generated the most buzz for Microsoft, if perhaps not sales, in recent times – off the shelves entirely.
As others have noted is the case for the Surface, distribution is key to the future success of Windows 8 tablets in Sweden. With the Surface, Microsoft appears to be moving away from its strategy of taking distribution largely into its own hands. With Windows 8, it appears to be moving in the opposite direction, taking the message directly to consumers rather than waiting for the country's retail heavyweights to show some interest.