All right, this is beginning to get ridiculous. Even as its competitors turn up the heat, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) can't get out of its own way with its Surface Pro tablet rollout. As noted in an article a few weeks ago, when Microsoft first made its upgraded tablet available to the North American masses, what should have been a red-letter day turned out to be anything but. And now, it looks like the rest of the world is in for more of the same.
The leader of Microsoft's Surface Pro efforts, Panos Panay, asserts that the demand for Surface was so overwhelming, it led to an almost immediate lack of inventory. But prospective customers made it clear from their comments on last month's blog that the sell-out of Surface tablets had more to do with Microsoft's dropping the ball, and less with overwhelming demand. That North American rollout fiasco only makes Microsoft's latest Surface availability news so disheartening.
The past, revisited
In his blog last month announcing the big rollout, Panay said that consumer response to Microsoft's Surface, "has been amazing. We're working with our retail partners who are currently out of stock of the 128GB Surface Pro." But reading the comments section of that same blog left us with an entirely different story: One of poor planning, lack of inventory, and a host of upset people.
Unfortunately, yesterday's missive is more of the same. On the one hand, Microsoft's latest Surface-related blog indicates its "phased approach to expansion" will continue in new markets beginning later this month. That sounds as if Ballmer is actually giving consumers legitimate information. But, not so fast.
For its Surface Pro rollout in countries outside the U.S. and Canada, we're left to ponder what Microsoft means by "the coming months," a phrase also used in its most recent blog. Sometime in the "coming months," folks in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, China, France, Germany, and Hong Kong, will no doubt get to experience what we have -- frustration.
Nearly all of the 33 comments left on Microsoft's most recent blog, just like when the Surface rollout was announced in North America last month, are written by people wanting to know how Microsoft could mess this up so badly. Here are a couple of snippets, which sum up the mood of Microsoft's global customers awaiting Surface Pro: "How exactly does this help us with a UK release timescale?" And, "I need a device!!!... but I guess Surface Pro will never get to México... Months for UK? Germany? France? well... I've lost any hope I had... I'll have to buy an iPad." Ouch.
I'm trying to remain bullish as Microsoft shifts to a world of mobile and cloud computing; it's the right way to go, and Microsoft can't get there fast enough. With its strong financials and stellar 3.3% dividend yield, Microsoft still offers investors both growth and income potential. But the Surface Pro rollout is becoming a fiasco of epic proportions, even as the biggest of the big hitters in the tablet market are ratcheting up their games.
Thursday's article discussed Samsung's goal of doubling tablet sales in 2013; it's now targeting as many as 40 million units this year in an effort to oust Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) and its iPad from the top of the global tablet heap. Samsung's objectives reinforce what we already know: Tablet makers have a lot at stake, and they're getting aggressive. Apple sold nearly 23 million iPads in calendar Q4 alone, and Samsung has made it clear it intends on overtaking Apple in what is becoming an exploding market.
Like Microsoft, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) isn't forthcoming with its tablet sales information. What we do know is that Google's Nexus tablet partner, Asus, jumped to fourth in global tablet sales in calendar Q4. You can bet Google and its CEO, Larry Page, aren't comfortable in fourth, and intend to rival Apple and Samsung in the years to come.
As for Microsoft, CEO Steve Ballmer, Panay, and the rest of the Surface Pro team can't get off the starting line. Catching the tablet leaders was always going to be a challenge for Microsoft; a late start, and butting heads with the likes of Samsung, Apple, and Google left Microsoft behind the eight ball before it even began. Now, when Microsoft needs its tablet rollout to go as smoothly as possible in an effort to make a dent, its once again dropping the ball.
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