A Different Perspective on Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)’s Surface Sales

Measuring success should be relatively easy. But when it applies to the rollout of a mobile computing alternative in today’s hypercompetitive market, things get a little fuzzy. That’s especially true for Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)‘s Surface tablet. If you ask an Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) or Samsung aficionado, Microsoft laid an overly expensive egg when it rolled out its new “next great thing.” But is the Surface really a flop, or are there mitigating factors we should consider?

Just the facts
The latest sales numbers for Surface RT and Pro sales, according to Bloomberg, suggest that Microsoft has sold about 1.5 million of the tablets since the RT was first rolled out in late October. The Surface Pro, Microsoft’s higher-end device, has been “available” (more on that shortly) for just over a month now and has sold about 400,000 units, according to the report. Of course, like his mobile-computing brethren over at Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is notorious for not sharing sales results, so the market needs to rely on Bloomberg and its unnamed sources for now.

Assuming the Surface sales numbers are close to Bloomberg’s estimate, they’re absolutely dismal compared with the nearly 23 million iPad units Apple sold in its most recent quarter. Google’s tablet partner Asus, according to IDC, is also gaining customers at a significantly higher pace than Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s Surface, jumping to fourth in tablet market share, primarily because of Google’s Nexus 7. Clearly, Surface is a bust, right?

Factors to consider
There’s no denying that the Surface RT has problems. Inventory hasn’t been a concern, as it is with the Surface Pro. But the RT’s incompatibility with legacy Windows apps, and with Microsoft letting potential buyers know that the faster, more powerful, Windows-compatible Pro was “coming soon,” put a damper on RT sales. Unfortunately, these are only two examples of how Microsoft dropped the ball when introducing its tablets. (A recent article details a few other hiccups.)

The 400,000 Surface Pro units moved in its first month (give or take) aren’t much, as Apple pundits are quick to point out. One Apple-friendly report referred to Microsoft’s Surface rollout as “stumbling out of the gates.”

But let’s keep this in perspective: With only a month of Surface Pro sales under its belt, a host of inventory problems that have riled customers, and a cost beginning at $900, Pro was never going to sell millions of units immediately, regardless of the circumstances. Was Microsoft really supposed to unseat Apple, Samsung, or even Google, at the top of the tablet food chain, in just a month?