Microsoft hasn't provided an updated figure for Windows 8 license sales since May, despite having multiple opportunities to do so at various industry events. But in a bid to turn attention away from its disastrous first year in the PC business, Microsoft this past week has made a rather nebulous claim. Its "preorder stock" of some coming Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablet models is "close to selling out."
I'm sorry—what? "Close to selling out"?
Windows 8 and Microsoft's first PC, Surface with Windows RT (Surface RT), both debuted in October 2012, almost one year ago, whereas Surface with Windows 8 Pro (Surface Pro) started shipping in February. Since then, Microsoft has stopped providing updates on Windows 8 license sales—they hit 100 million in May—although recent usage data suggests there are as many as 120 million people using Windows 8 at the moment. That sounds impressive until you realize that roughly 300 million new PCs have been sold in this timeframe.
There are some changes coming, of course. A major free update to Windows 8, cunningly called Windows 8.1, will ship next week and trigger a second round of hybrid PC releases, machines that combine tablets and traditional Ultrabook designs in interesting but so-far-unsuccessful ways. You can read my review of Windows 8.1 on the SuperSite for Windows—yes, Windows 8.1 is an important and meaningful change—and check out Fall 2013 Windows Tablet Preview for a peek at some coming hybrid PCs and tablets.
Surface, of course, has been an utter disaster. Microsoft wrote down $900 million related to unsold Surface hardware and accessory inventory mid-year, and Surface RT has been the subject of fire-sale pricing ever since. My sources suggest that a new low-cost Surface "mini" device has been delayed to early 2014 solely to prevent its appearance this holiday season from wiping out any remaining Surface RT sales. Microsoft, it seems, is simply determined to sell off the remaining Surface RT inventory without further rebates.
(Microsoft vaguely claims that the Surface Pro is "the best-selling device in its class," although I'm curious what other PCs are in said class. In fact, one might accurately describe Surface Pro as being in a class by itself.)
And now we have the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2. Arriving next week, the devices and some new accessories—virtually all the currently available accessories work on previous-generation devices, too—have been available for preorder since September 24. And in the first week between that date and the device's general availability on October 22, Microsoft claimed that "preorder stock of the Surface 2 (64GB) and Surface Pro 2 (256GB and 512GB) are close to selling out, [but only] at Microsoft Stores."
That's not all that impressive. It means that Surface 2 (32GB), Surface Pro 2 (64GB) and Surface Pro 2 (128GB) are not close to selling out. And those are the machines that I think make the most sense for most consumers, and are likewise the models for which Microsoft manufactured the most units. Put simply, only the limited-production versions of Surface 2/Surface Pro 2 are "close" to selling out.
Put even more simply, no Surface 2/Surface Pro 2 models have in fact sold out yet.
What has sold out are a handful of specific accessories: the Arc Touch Mouse Surface Edition, Type Cover 2 in Purple and Black, and Touch Cover 2, and then only at Microsoft Stores and only in the United States.
What we'll never see are actual preorder numbers.
Do you need such a device? You should check out my Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 overview before even considering such a purchase. Frankly, given the product line's track record, I'm not convinced there's a viable market for either one of these things. Microsoft might call itself a devices and services company, but it makes only two devices, and neither is particularly well suited for the task at hand. (Quick: Name one mainstream Ultrabook with a screen size smaller than 11". Right. It doesn't exist.)
I wish Microsoft the best with this new endeavor, I really do. But this kind of communication simply obscures what's really happening. And that was a big problem with everything it did leading up to Windows 8 and the first Surface devices, as well.