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Even as Microsoft expands retail distribution for its Surface with Windows RT product, Microsoft partners say the software giant's Apple-focused consumer strategy for its fledgling tablet is sinking Surface and taking its toll on Windows 8.
Partners responding to Microsoft's move this week to let retailers like Staples carry Surface with Windows RT predicted the distribution shift will have little impact. They said the real problem with the Surface strategy is Microsoft's failure to capitalize on its robust position in the business market by leveraging its vast partner network.
"I think this additional distribution will have minimal impact," said Arlin Sorenson, the founder and CEO of HTG Peer Groups, a 350-member peer-to-peer solution provider organization headquartered in Harlan, Iowa that has been working with Apple on iPad consultant certifications for its peer-to-peer members over the last year. "I haven't had anybody tell me they prefer Surface over the iPad."
Microsoft, which up until now has been selling Surface with Windows RT through 31 Microsoft retail stores and 34 smaller holiday specialty stores, as well as through its website, began selling the product through other retailers this week, including Staples and Amazon.com. What's more, Microsoft extended the offering of the product through all of its holiday specialty stores into the new year and announced that the specialty stores will be transitioned into either permanent brick and mortar Microsoft retail outlets or specialty store locations.
Microsoft insists it always planned to expand the retail presence for Surface after the first of the year. But, the additional retail distribution announcement came only seven days after Detwiler Fenton & Co., a Boston-based brokerage, reported that it expects Microsoft to ship just 500,000 to 600,000 Surface tablets in the current quarter, significantly below its previous forecast of 1 million to 2 million units. In contrast, one analyst, Sameer Singh at Tech-Thoughts, has estimated that Apple could ship anywhere from 24 million to 26 million iPads in the current quarter.
Microsoft has offered no details on whether it plans to sell Microsoft Surface through solution providers.
Microsoft declined to provide an interview to discuss the Surface distribution strategy with Jon Roskill, corporate vice president and head of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group.
In response to CRN questions on how the shift will impact partners, Microsoft released a prepared statement: "Our plan has always been to expand the distribution channel for Surface after the initial launch. Based on the consumer response as well as interest from other retailers, it is a natural time to provide consumers with additional locations to get their Surface with Windows RT. Yesterday's announcement will impact production and distribution of Surface with Windows RT specifically. With regards to Surface with Windows 8 Pro or additional distribution channels, we have nothing further to share at this time."