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Microsoft's contrived Surface Pro shortage

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by John C. Dvorak, 13 Feb 2013Blog
Microsoft's contrived Surface Pro shortage

Oh no! The Microsoft Surface Pro sold out on launch day over in the US! The Americans can't get hold of one! What will they ever do?

Of course, the tablet isn’t on sale over here yet, but what’s happened over in the States is clearly a publicity stunt, not unlike the one Nintendo pulls every time it does something new with the Wii. Shortages create demand and apparently the public falls for this trick over and over.

Microsoft is getting plenty of attention due to this. Much of last Sunday's This Week in Tech (TWiT) podcast was about the Surface Pro and its shortage. Everyone was ever so worried, despite the fact that nobody in the group had any intention of ever buying one.

And check out these news headlines:

"Microsoft sells out of 128GB Surface Pro: Some customers fume, critics seize shortage as sign that Microsoft fumbled launch" via ComputerWorld.

"Surface Pro out, but you can't get it" via BYTE.

"Retail folly: Why Microsoft Surface losses will result in a new channel strategy" via CRN.

"Microsoft Surface Pro sell-out flap: Is the tablet really that popular?" via PCWorld.

"Microsoft Surface Pro model sells out; sceptics say it was understocked" via The Washington Post.

Story after story, writers are sceptical.

I honestly believe the shortage was contrived for a number of reasons. First of all, it adds some excitement to the product, which, while gorgeous, may not have any legs. Also, as I have mentioned before, it's just too expensive.

Microsoft is just testing the waters for these tablets. I expect the whole thing is a dry test to help decide which way to go next. The company intends to move these items through its chain of US stores, and doesn't want to be holding the bag for a slew of unsold or older models.

Of course, Microsoft, like Apple and everyone else in tech, hardly understands the concept of inventory dumping via a sale. This is the way retail works and both Apple and Microsoft better learn how to get rid of excess inventory. Right now, the thinking is to make fewer copies and avoid putting anything on sale.

I think it is possible that Microsoft is so paranoid about holding the bag that it would adopt the IBM strategy of doing a huge run of a product – many versions of the ThinkPad were believed to have been manufactured this way – then after the run is over, it's over. You move on to the next product.

This may be what is going to happen with the Surface, which would mean that there is something waiting in the wings already.

I personally like the idea of one production run, followed by a release of the next new and improved version. This puts the products automatically on the shortage boat creating a loopy demand as the folks clamour for the device before they are sold out.

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