The iPhone 6, Surface Pro 3 and meaningless stock level statements

My colleague Brian Fagioli reported some news a couple of days ago that had me smiling. "Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 is a worldwide success - strong sales cause limited supply" his headline declared. It’s the sort of headline Microsoft would have hoped for when it announced the news that some overseas retailers had run out of Surface Pro 3 stock.

"A worldwide success" is pushing it. What happened was demand outstripped supply, and the supply was probably on the low (prudent, if you like) side to begin with. Microsoft announced no numbers, and posted a cleverly worded blog which makes it sound as if Surface Pro 3 is a huge hit. Unless you read it carefully.

"Given the interest that we saw as part of our US launch, retailers ordered what we thought was a healthy amount of Surface Pro 3s for these new markets. It turns out that we didn't ship enough", commented Brian Hall, General Manager, Surface Marketing.

"Given the interest" is a fun way to begin that sentence. It could mean, "Given the high interest" or "Given the low interest". If you assume it’s not the implied first meaning but the second one, what he’s really saying is "Given the limited interest in the US, overseas retailers took more stock than we expected them to, and by golly they cleared the lot!"

The fact that Surface Pro 3 has sold out in some overseas territories is good news for Microsoft and the tech giant’s tablet brand, but it certainly doesn’t mean the device is a success, worldwide or otherwise yet.

When a new product launches stock shortages are common, and demand from people wanting to get their hands on the new release often causes sellouts that paint a picture that might not - indeed probably won’t - reflect the truth.

Shortly after Windows 8 launched, Microsoft told the world that "Windows 8 upgrade momentum is outpacing that of Windows 7", and here we are a couple of years later waiting for Windows 9 to replace Microsoft's worst selling OS in recent memory.

Read more: Can Microsoft repair the damage with Windows 9?

And let's not forget, the original Surface and Surface Pro "sold out" in a lot of places in the early days too, and we all know how well that turned out to be doing. Shortly after Surface 2 and Pro 2 launched, Microsoft declared it "close to selling out" and now it's claiming the same with Surface Pro 3.

Brian also reported on how well iPhone 6 was doing (taking a swipe at Android users in the process) using a quote from Apple that said "response to iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus has been incredible with a record number of preorders overnight". It is, of course, another rather meaningless statement. It could be a record number of preorders overnight everywhere, or a record number of preorders overnight in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Apple doesn't specify, and doesn't give any numbers, either.

When the iPhone 5S launched we had stories about how 5S supplies were limited and my colleague Joe Wilcox wrote the following:

In business perception is everything, and supply shortages generate blogs and news stories and the appearance that the product is super hot-in-demand.

And when a product is super-hot in demand, people want it. They want to jump on that bandwagon and own the product everyone else has. If Microsoft or Apple say "we've plenty of stock, come buy", it will give the impression that no one wants what they're offering, and who wants a product that no one else wants?

Related: Microsoft is cool again, but it needs to evangelise its brand

So congrats to Microsoft for running out of Surface Pro 3 stock in some parts of the world, and well done to Apple for getting good pre-orders on a new phone with a hugely fanatical fan base. Come back to me when you have some solid sales numbers to offer, okay?

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