It's either a sign of strong demand or poor inventory management -- or both. Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet, its strongest offer so far in making a dent in the booming tablet category, reportedly sold out during its launch weekend.
The Windows 8 Pro, Intel-based product became available for sale on Saturday, but various reports indicate that the 128 GB model in particular is sold out through Microsoft online and retailers. There were also reports and photos of lines of customers at some retailers, such as a two-hour wait at the Microsoft store in Seattle's University Village.
The 64 GB version is more available, but it was the subject of criticism because, after accounting for system and other preloaded software, only 23 GB of disk space remains available. The 128 GB model features 83 GB free.
In an exchange on Reddit.com last week, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Panos Panay wrote that "initial reports out regarding available disk space were conservative," because they were based on pre-released models with extra data. He said the company's final production units were actually coming in with about 6-7 GB of additional free space.
He also noted that storage space can be extended via the microSDXC socket for storage expansion, USB 3.0 and SkyDrive, and that a 64 GB model provides full Windows "and enough storage for a number of large application installs such as games, productivity apps," and other uses.
In a statement, Microsoft said that the "customer response to the launch of Surface Pro has been amazing." The company added that it was "working with our retail partners who are currently out of stock of the 128 GB Surface Pro to replenish supplies as quickly as possible."
Not Much Supply?
A key question is how much inventory the retailers actually have had. Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said his understanding was that many of the retail outlets "did not have much supply." He said stores received one to 10 units, which "indicates some demand."
Greengart told us that, in favoring the 128 GB unit, buyers seem to be saying, "If I'm already spending over $1,000 with a keyboard, I might as well get the more usable one," given that the Surface Pro is essentially "a premium Ultrabook without a keyboard permanently attached." He added that Microsoft apparently mis-estimated the demand for each model, and "probably should have gone with 128 GB and 256 GB versions."
Greengart said that, anecdotally, he has "found a fairly high level of interest, particularly from mobile professionals, who are wondering if this product could give them the laptop they need plus the tablet they want." He also noted that "Microsoft has done a really good job with its ads, which are ubiquitous and striking," clearly showing that it's both a tablet and a laptop.
Responding to some questions being posted online as to whether the relatively small amount of inventory is a deliberate attempt by Microsoft to induce shortages, Greengart said this was "probably not purposefully done," but appeared to be more of a result of misgauging the appeal of the 128 GB model.