Microsoft’s Surface: Going off half-cocked

When I was a kid, my dad used the phrase "going off half-cocked." This originates from way back when flintlock guns were half-cocked as the equivalent to the safety being on – and refers to when the weapon accidentally went off in this state, usually with nasty results. As you’re probably aware, the phrase now refers to someone who has not given an idea or a decision much thought.

Or indeed a company that hasn’t given a decision much thought. In this case, Microsoft, which – with zero indication that anyone really wants to buy even one Surface tablet – has decided to make three million of its slates, market be damned (and OEMs be damned, too).

The way I see this, it's both good and bad. It's good because I suspect Microsoft will hold a fire sale for these tablets. I'd buy one with the keyboard in a minute if it was priced at, say, around the £200 to £250 mark. If the keyboard is usable, that is. The problem is that nobody has actually used the machine, but here come three million of them!

There is another problem, too. Today's market seems to be reminiscent of the early 1980s, when product cycles were shorter. This tablet is dead money by June 2013. So, Microsoft not only has to move these items by then, but it must have an upgraded version shortly thereafter and shift that stock as well.

Microsoft's long-term strategy is to follow Apple's lead and roll out high-margin retail operations to move things like the tablet and any future hardware. The issue is that Apple has more than 300 stores and can shift millions of items, but Microsoft is headed towards 30 stores in the US. This disparity makes a huge difference that apparently Microsoft cannot see. And it is already fumbling the future.

For example, Microsoft has an online store to complement the retail operation, but when you ask people about it, nobody knows it exists. I discovered that the store even has an affiliate program that bloggers can subscribe to if they want to sell keyboards and get a pittance of a cut. (Affiliate programs are generally not money-makers for bloggers). I do not think I have ever seen a link to the Microsoft store from any blog or website, though. I assume that the affiliate program is in name only, meaning it is not a reality.

I'm sure that some people hankering for the Surface tablet will find the online store, but this isn't an aggressive operation like, say, Amazon.

So, with 30 stores across the States and a mysterious online shop, the company must move three million Surface tablets. That's 100,000 per store in six months, or 16,666 per store each month. I could go on with the maths, but let's just leave it there and say I doubt Microsoft can manage this. Perhaps the online store can pick up the slack and maybe some enterprise customers can get these things cheap.

It just seems to me that Microsoft has "gone off half-cocked." That’s the best way to put it.