Microsoft reopens 128GB Surface Pro online orders

Supplies still tight as company tells consumers to expect 2-to-3-week shipping delay

Microsoft on Friday reopened online sales for the 128GB Surface Pro after nearly a week of stock outages, telling buyers that the tablets would ship in two to three weeks.

According to Microsoft's e-store, a 128GB Surface Pro ordered on Saturday, Feb. 15 will ship March 1.

But Microsoft also hinted that supplies would remain tight, and to expert future shortages. "Once inventory is depleted, the system will show as 'out of stock' until new inventory is available to ship," the company said in a blog post.

The $999 128GB Surface Pro went on sale on Feb 9, and quickly sold out.

Customers were furious. Frustrated at their fruitless search for the tablet last weekend, they took Microsoft to task both for not having enough units, but also for refusing to accept orders on its website for future shipping.

Microsoft addressed the latter with the change to its online store Friday.

The shortages, which will apparently last at least three weeks in total, have led some to say Microsoft badly fumbled the launch. One analyst didn't agree.

"They're going to lose very few sales, and they look very popular," said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research in an email. "Later would have been worse, with the "V" word being bruited about." The word Gottheil was referring to was "vaporware."

Shortages are not unusual in technology product launches. Apple, for example, often debuts a new product with limited supplies, which quickly run out. It may take weeks or even months for Apple to match supply with demand.

Last year, Apple's iPad Mini was on a two-week shipping delay within days of its launch. Months later, that delay has shrunk to one to three days, but still exists.

Gottheil cast the 128GB Surface Pro shortage as similar. "It's the norm with major new products. It's just a judgment call on how large you want your inventory to be the day you start sales," he said.

And there were other factors at work. "Two things: Microsoft lacked time and Microsoft lacked parts, probably touchscreens," said Gottheil. "Microsoft wanted this thing on the market as soon as possible, and that ruled out stockpiling. [And] we know that touchscreens are a problem for the industry, probably even for Apple."

On Friday, Microsoft also gave customers advice on how to score a 128GB Surface Pro through its U.S. retail partners, Best Buy and Staples, saying that the former will also take reservations for future deliveries.

The $899 64GB Surface Pro has remained available throughout the outage of its larger and more expensive sibling. Although Microsoft has been mum about sales -- on Friday, it said only that it was "excited by the demand" -- most have interpreted the availability of the 64GB configuration as confirmation that customers believe the storage capacity too limited for what Microsoft has argued can be a PC notebook replacement.

Gottheil agreed, saying that Microsoft should think about dropping the 64GB model, but with a caveat. "Unless there are places where taxes are included in [corporate] purchase rules," he said.

Microsoft sells the Surface Pro through its online store, at its approximately 70 retail outlets in the U.S. and Canada, and through its retail partners. It has yet to announce when the Surface Pro will go on sale outside of North America.

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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