Today was the official launch date of Microsoft’s much-anticipated Surface Pro, the tablet device they famously announced in the summer of 2012. The device, supposed to bridge the gap between tablets and ultrabook laptops offering, if not a perfect amalgamation of the two, at least a superb blending of capabilities. From the various reviews, it sounds like the device more or less gets there, and a few days ago my fiancée and I managed to get some hands on time with the devices at Microsoft’s store in South Coast Plaza, Orange County, CA. We’d gone in hopes of getting a reservation card, announced a few days before. Kelley is an artist, and as such Surface represents probably the best value in tablet and computer on the market, thanks to its integrated Wacom digitizer that supports 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity. After playing with the device in store that day, she knew it was worth getting as a worthy upgrade to her aging Tablet PC. She’d tried for a time with the iPad (which we finally got rid of awhile back), but that device simply isn’t up to the task. So we asked for a reservation card, but were told that they were already gone. Subsequently the employee said not to worry because “we’ll have hundreds, you won’t need a reservation,” so we left the store with no worries.
Then this morning arrived, and as we got ready to head to the store, I perused the news and came across a startling article: Surface Pro sells out immediately. What the hell happened?
We called our local Microsoft store to confirm, and indeed they are sold out. The rep actually said they sold out “hundreds” within 20 minutes, though frankly I have a very hard time believing that. So we drove to our local Staples and found the Surface display, crammed in a slightly out-of-the-way end cap, disheveled and looking like the place where one would cram the cheap junk nobody cares about. No Surface Pro was on display, but a tag did claim they had 64GB models, so we decided to flag down an employee. The first employee looked confused by the words “Microsoft Surface,” and when we showed him the display he looked confused, as if he’d never seen it before. So he flagged down another employee, who told us “it’s not out yet.” I informed him that yes, in fact, it came out today. Blank stare. “We don’t have any,” he said, and we showed him the tag. “Maybe online only,” he replied, and I started to get a little irritated. “Can you please check stock?” He finally relented and went to check stock. Sure enough, they had none of the 128GB models nor even the 64GB.
While we waited for the employee to go through the local store inventory and find out if anyone nearby had the Surface Pro in stock, I started looking online with my Lumia 920, and the reports I was finding were disturbing: Staples stores getting either none or one of each, Best Buy stores getting one or two of each model, many times not even enough to cover preorders. What was happening here? I decided we’d try the Best Buy, though by this point I had fairly little hope.
We walked in the door and quickly found the Surface and Surface Pro display, which I can only describe as a pathetic little endcap with very little information and not a single Surface of any kind in stock. Compared to the Apple iPad display right next to it, the Surface display looked like a sad joke.
Upon investigation, we learned from an employee that they had received ONE Surface Pro, and it was immediately given to the one person who’d preordered it. Left with no choice, we preordered in the hopes that the next batch–which they couldn’t even tell us an arrival date for–might net her the new Surface.
At first blush, it sounds like great news that Surface Pro has sold out. Boo-fucking-yah. But when most stores got one or no units, this isn’t a victory, it’s a disgrace, and it’s entirely Microsoft’s doing. Moreover, the pathetic store displays leave very little wonder why they thought they could get away with a miniscule launch for Surface Pro: the section where Surface lives in any retail store not owned by Microsoft looks like it’s in the ghetto. If you were an average shopper, you wouldn’t care about the Surface at all, because the message Microsoft’s merchandisers, if they even have any, have sent, is that they don’t care about it either.
Go into any retail store that isn’t a Microsoft Store, and what you’ll find is similar to what I saw this morning: Surface displays where there are either devices turned off, laid flat, or someone has kicked off the recovery process, making it look like the device is broken. On several occasions I’ve come across these devices (the RT versions) in this state and have taken the few moments it takes to fix them, but where are the official merchandisers whose job it should be to ensure these products are shown in the best possible light? As far as I can tell, either Microsoft hasn’t hired any or the ones they have hired are apathetic and don’t care about the quality of the job they do.
Today should have been something special. It should have been the day that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people were able to get the first of a new kind of computer that could ultimately be the direction the entire PC industry goes: a convergent device that’s great work and play. Instead, it’s the day Microsoft wasted everyone’s time with a soft launch that included very few actual units to sell, and for those who came looking, showed them a retail presence that even Microsoft doesn’t care enough to present effectively.
What a sad day for technology enthusiasts everywhere.
Did you try to buy a Surface Pro today? If so, what was your experience like? Let us know in the comments!