Microsoft spills Surface RT prices, start at $499

Then pulls pre-sales page from online store that listed tablet for $499 to $699

Microsoft today briefly posted prices of $499 to $699 for the Surface tablet, but then pulled the listings from its online store.

"If true, this is aggressive and right where it needs to be priced," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in an email.

According to the Microsoft Store, the "Surface with Windows RT" -- apparently the official name for what most have been shortening to "Surface RT" -- will start at $499 for a 32GB configuration that lacks the cover-with-keyboard Microsoft has aggressively touted, including in television ads that kicked off Monday night.

The tablet also comes in a 32GB model with Microsoft's "Touch Cover" for $599, and in a 64GB configuration with a cover for $699.

Touch Covers will be available separately for $119.99, and the "Type Cover," a slightly thicker keyboard with key travel more like that of a lightweight notebook, will be priced at $129.99.

All will be available for pre-order, with delivery by Oct. 26, the official launch date of Windows 8, Windows RT, the Surface, and PCs and tablets from Microsoft's OEM partners.

Although the pre-order page disappeared from the Microsoft Store, Harry McCracken, formerly the editor-in-chief of PCworld, a sister publication to Computerworld, and now the technology columnist for Time magazine, confirmed the prices in a story on Time's website.

According to McCracken, a small group of journalists were briefed Monday by Microsoft at the company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters.

When asked what happened to the pre-order page, a Microsoft Store sales representative early today said, "I don't have additional details to share at this time."

Microsoft has been coy about pricing for the Surface, both the version that launches next week, and one slated to ship in late January powered by Windows 8 Pro. That led to much speculation, including talk of prices as low as $199.

Earlier, this month, Sameer Singh, founder of Tech-Thought, pegged the starting price of the Surface with Windows RT at between $399 and $499, basing his projection on a workup of a "bill of materials," or BOM, that accounted for Microsoft's materials and manufacturing costs.

Singh forecast a profit margin of 38% for the Surface if it was priced at $499.

The starting price of the Surface with Windows RT is, perhaps not coincidentally, the same as that for the least-expensive iPad. Apple sells the iPad at $499 for a 16GB model, $599 for 32GB and $699 for 64GB. It also still sells 2011's iPad 2 for $399 (16GB).

While the starting-price iPad boasts just 16GB of storage space -- half that of the entry-level Surface -- Apple's tablet is backed by a much larger app ecosystem.

To complicate matters, Apple is expected to debut a smaller, 7.85-in. iPad, perhaps for as little as $249, next week.

As of 10 a.m. Eastern, Microsoft's online store still noted that the Surface with Windows RT is "coming soon," and offered no more information about the tablet than when the company unveiled it last June.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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