Microsoft Surface with Windows RT tablet sales disappoint in fourth quarter

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.
Written by Sean Portnoy, Contributor

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.

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