Any fair evaluation of the numbers says that Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPad is the tablet to beat. But Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) may have already found a winner in the new Surface tablet. According to Mr. Softy's retail website, the $499 edition of the new Surface, due on Oct. 26, is already on a three-week back order.
To be fair, the appearance of a backlog isn't the same as an actual backlog. Microsoft could be keeping inventory precious in order to artificially stoke demand.
But that's also a cynical take. The other possibility is that businesses are generally interested in the Surface. After all, Microsoft is selling the device with a choice of keyboard-embedded covers that, for about $100 more, transform Surface into a lightweight laptop that runs Windows.
Therein lies the potential advantage -- and danger. Whereas the iPad has done nothing to cannibalize Apple's sales of laptop Macs, Surface could very well threaten Ultrabook sales in which Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) has placed so much faith, yet which have failed to bear any meaningful earnings gains.
Microsoft isn't the only one exploring ways to profit from offering a convertible PC-tablet experience. China's Lenovo -- one of only two global PC manufacturers to ship more units during the third quarter -- is making a line of convertibles in time for the holiday season.
Surface is more of a de facto convertible, since the only PC part that ships with the device is a keyboard, and even that's an option. Nevertheless, in offering it, Mr. Softy appears to be addressing a potential need that Apple has refused to even explore.
My colleagues aren't as sold on Surface as I am. Fellow Fool Evan Niu sees Microsoft taking a hefty writedown due to its inexperience managing inventories. Senior technology analyst Eric Bleeker says Microsoft has already bungled the launch with its pricing plan, hurting chip partner NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) in the process.