For all the talk about the Surface – and we’ve said some nice things about it – Microsoft’s foray into big league tablet computing has been marred with teething problems and lackluster sales. Arriving in a crowded tablet market on October 26, the Surface was praised for its industrial design and build quality as it was panned for its resource-hungry and buggy OS and insufficient third-party software.

The software maker did not release exact sales data and its CEO Steve Ballmer is dogging such questions in absence of a milestone like Apple’s three million tablet sales in three days. In an interview with a French newspaper, Ballmer qualified the beginning of the Surface sales as “modest”, which probably means way worse than expected… reports that Ballmer described initial Surface reception as “modest”. He also confirmed Microsoft sold four million Windows 8 upgrades in the three days following the launch and said that the Intel-based Surface with Windows 8 Pro, which is due soon, will have a higher-resolution screen.

When the Wall Street Journal asked Ballmer about the Surface’s opening weekend reception, he responded:

Numerically there’s not really much that’s interesting to report.

Apple’s boss Tim Cook opined Microsoft made too many trade-offs trying to create a modern touch experience on tablets while at the same time trying to appease to the old types who prefer desktop metaphor and legacy Windows apps.

I think one of the toughest things you do with each product is to make hard tradeoffs, and decide what a product should be. And we’ve really done that with the iPad. And so the user experience is absolutely incredible.

Some have also questioned usability and build quality of the Surface’s Touch and Type covers, with some people complaining on Microsoft’s support forums that the edge which attaches to the tablet comes away, exposing the wiring and requiring replacement.

Not everyone agrees with Cook’s assessment.

AnandTech wrote in its lengthy Surface review:

I don’t believe Surface is perfect, but it’s a platform I can believe in. What I’m most excited about is to see what happens after a second or third rev of the design.

I approve this message.

I can’t help but think critics are grossly mistaken dismissing the Surface all too easily.

Microsoft might just as well be in it for the long haul. That’s how the company beat Sony and Nintendo to the punch with its Xbox console. And even if the Surface is just a ploy to drive Windows 8 adoption, as Acer suggested, it’s already successful even if sales are lacking.

As a reference platform for third-party Windows 8 device makers, the Surface gives Microsoft its own premium tablet brand to compete with Apple, Google and Amazon. Right now, the Surface is a Windows tablet.

To Windows lovers, it’s a reason enough to visit Redmond’s retail stores. To Microsoft, the Surface is an opportunity to keep its core base from defecting to competing platforms by keeping them interested in the Windows ecosystem.

So short-term, Surface may have been a disappointment in terms of units sold. Speaking of its long-term prospect, it’s a first step in the right direction. Should Microsoft continue refining the Surface software and hardware, it’s gonna become a very competitive product, one that’s gonna steal sales from other vendors.

And if the Surface Xbox rumor is true, there’s a lot to look forward from Microsoft’s tablet brand.

Unlike other makers, Microsoft has some unique advantage. The Surface is but an extension of an array of upcoming Windows 8 devices. It provides out-of-the-box compatibility with Office, which is a big deal.

Popular apps will come sooner than later.

All told, Microsoft is admittedly best poised to sell the device to enterprise customers, especially those that rely on Microsoft’s desktop, server and enterprise software.


  • still waiting for the pro

  • Of course it will be “modest”, anyone else saw their keynote? Now compare it to Apple keynotes. Apple gets huge sales because of the advertise, especially by using strong words like; phenomenal, extraordinary, amazing, etc. You can barely notice any mistake in their keynotes.
    Microsoft didn’t do well in their keynote, neither their Ad! If you ask me, I think the Surface was released before its time. I mean, read about its review across all websites, most of them are thumps down.
    Surface is a good idea, but it still needs a lot of improvements. Hopefully they do better in the next generation, and its advertising.

    • Really, you think the Surface had “Modest” sales because of the Keynote? That is very idiotic. And as for advertising, I would say the Surface commercials are way better than any iPad commercial I have yet to see.

      This boils down to the consumers choice. Yes I believe MS can make a solid and reliable tablet, but as user reviews have shown, MS did what they always do, over promise and under deliver. MS is being haunted by there past, and until they make solid Software and now devices, I will continue to expect “Modest” sales from them!

      • W3PYF

        What should trouble Microsoft is that, for months, anti-Apple/pro-Windows fans have been waxing enthusiastic about just the possibility of buying a Windows tablet – and every web site with a comment section has been chock full of promises to buy them a Surface as soon as it was available. And sure enough, on release day, Microsoft PR had all the media at a few stores where customers were reputedly buying Surfaces.

        All over the USA, Microsoft accompanied the launch with attractive young models inexplicably flipping Surface tablets through the air. Big billboard ads (at least here in Boston) which – like iPad billboard ads – had just the Surface and the word “Surface.”

        Much like the Apple launch of iPad. So what explains “modest” sales?

        You may not like the Apple ecosystem, you may not like their “closed” architecture (but the RT architecture is hardly more open, as far as users are concerned) – but Apple has a vast cadre of loyal customers who buy almost everything new and evangelize it to their friends. Apple billboards featuring the iPad filled the space with featured apps everyone could identify and wanted. The Apple logo “connected” with millions of iPhone customers.

        This may be as good as it gets for MSFT until it brings out its Surface Pro – but even that assures nothing in the short or long term. The Surface RT may actually damage the Surface brand. It solves no “problem: for consumers or industry that current laptops and iPads don’t do as well or better.

      • Did you even see their keynote? Surface was struggling hard to work. Explain iPad mini sales. In my opinion I think iPad mini is stupid product. But hey, there are many other people who are in NEED for a product like it. So basically when people are in need for something, various companies offer different solutions/products. And people would want to see its presentation (including Ads, reviews, etc) before buying. So, when the presentation suck like Microsoft’s, people will look for another solution.
        Apple used to make products that people needed before they knew what they need. It’s crazy, but that is a fact!
        Believe me, you can even sell sand if you made the right presentation and a good advertising. Some people would just fall for anything!

      • W3PYF

        More than 100 million people who bought iPads (or, as in industry, had iPads bought for them by CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies) – they are all “stupid”? Apple “used” to make things people needed?

        That’s delusional. Microsoft (mostly in the form of its delusional CEO Ballmer) spent 5 years deprecating Apple products while Asian companies flailed away trying to clone the iPad without iOS. And all the while, a small but vocal chorus of anti-Apple poeple cheered the Android tablets few consumers and fewer in industry would adopt. Sight unseen, a Microsoft tablet running Windows was accepted as superior to the iPad.

        Well, the first Surface is here, the same week as the new iPad Mini and the iPad 4. Onei is a disappointment – and sales are “modest.” Three million people buy the Apple offerings. That says two things to anyone rational: 1 – there’s no huge unmet demand for a Windows tablet, and 2 – there’s massive untapped demand for Apple products.

        Now, you’re free to interpret the response of the masses as stupid. There’s a small hard core of Republicans who interpret their wipeout last week as evidence that their party isn’t conservative enough. More rational minds see Romney as their Surface RT – an outmoded model for which there is no demand, and they’re back to the political drawing board.

        Microsoft developed a digital 2012 Edsel. It’s sad that millions of shareholders have to watch their investment frittered away as the company continues work on a 2013 Edsel.

      • macboy74

        “I would say the Surface commercials are way better than any iPad commercials I have yet to see”.

        You’re kidding right? So showing a 30 second spot on the keyboard cover constantly clicking. And a kickstand constantly opening and closing is better advertising than showing what the product does.

  • Lordthree

    DOA. Long haul? Ha! Remember Kin?

  • Andre Garrido

    “Microsoft’s support forums that that the edge which attaches” typo.

  • jose castro

    Still don’t want one

  • H2

    Does Microsoft need to plant its flag in every product category? and without a proper plan to win?

    Without a proper plan, Surface will become a me-too product.

    Microsoft needs tighter focus.

  • The user experience of the iPad isn’t great at all. It really is a toy, in the sense that it’s fun to play around with and the big screen really was a game-changer, but because it runs on mobile hardware, it doesn’t have much use and it’s as far from a laptop replacement as we’ll ever get. I’d be rather surprised is Surface sold well, anywhere. It’s meant to be a kinda sample device to guide OEMs in the right direction and to show-off Windows 8 RT and Pro.

    When it comes to advertising, while I don’t watch much tv ( if any ), Windows 8 has been over-advertised like nothing else. I’ve yet to see any advertisement from Apple here in little Denmark, and so far I’ve been spammed with commercials and signs from Microsoft regarding Surface and Windows 8, it’s extreme.

    • W3PYF

      Mathias, I have to disagree – it’s extremely successful as a business device here in the USA. The overwhelming use is for “content presentation” by field sales reps, although it’s also seen wide incorporation into our under-modernization healthcare system – 62% of physicians now own them, and in radiology, the iPad 3 is everywhere being used by radiologists for remote reading of CT, MRI and PET scans.

      Many 3rd party vendors sell popular keyboard cases; with Dropbox and CloudOn and other apps the iPad does Office like a laptop.

    • CollegiateLad

      Not sure I understand. Even Steve said the iPad isn’t a laptop replacement. If I recall correctly, he said it’s designed to fit between a PC and a smartphone. However, you can still do light work on it – but its purpose is for everything fun. Surfing, games, Facebook, twitter, reading, movies, music, etc.

      Since most of us use computers leisurely, this device works great.

      • And it does those things without much trouble, but for the most part users will be going “ohh, I can’t do that, or that.”

  • I really think most people are waiting for the Pro, rather than get the RT.

    • Techpm

      I think they’ll be disapointed both in price and hardware (weight, fans on a tablet-type machine?)

      Only hardcore Office jockeys will apply.

  • I actually find it really funny that someone can call an iPad a toy and as far from a replacement to a lapto as you can get, that’s just narrow minded. I think that the problem with Microsoft’s tablet it’s first the OS doesn’t work great as a tablet option or as a desktop eather. Second yes advertising is a huge part of generating sales. Ask anyone what is the name of Microsoft’s tablet and see what they say. And last it’s the hardware side of things apple are just great at hardware where Microsoft aren’t.
    The fact is that tablets have already replaced laptops and are only gonna get much better and MS will get it there eventually

    • Mobile tablets will likely never replace laptops. If you want the tablet to replace the laptop, it needs do the same as the laptop, but better. As with the launch of the iPad, I doubt you’ve ever used it (Windows 8).

  • Techpm

    Competition is very strong and any failure from Microsoft will just burn their image even more. Any next revision will be even harder to take seriously by the public.

    They really should have made extra sure this one was perfect and they communicated to the public exactly what it was (not confusing them with Windows RT and non-RT)

  • that thing sucks they should have just released the pro model now cause this lame version is crappy and odd..