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Third-Party Retailers To Sell Surface Tablets

Microsoft announced this week that non-Microsoft outlets will be able to start selling Microsoft's Surface tablets soon.

Starting in mid-December, the Surface RT -- the version of Microsoft's tablet that runs Windows RT -- will hit the shelves of third-party retailers in the United States and Australia, with other countries being added in the future, according to Microsoft's announcement.

The company did not name which retailers will stock the Surface, but major office-supply chain Staples announced separately on Tuesday that it will carry the tablet starting on Dec. 12.

"Our plan has been to expand the retail presence for Surface after the first of the year," said Steve Schueler, corporate vice president of Microsoft Retail Sales and Marketing, in a prepared statement. "Based on interest from retailers, we are giving them the option to carry Surface with Windows RT even earlier."

Additionally, Microsoft said that it will make its temporary "pop-up" stores permanent, either as brick-and-mortar locations or as specialty stores. Microsoft opened 34 of these pop-up stores around the time of the Windows 8 and Surface launches to showcase the devices during the critical holiday shopping season.

The Surface comes in two versions. The one that is currently available, Surface RT, retails for $499 without the distinctive touch cover. The forthcoming Windows 8-based Surface Pro will begin at $899 and become available for sale in January. Until now, the Surface has been available only from Microsoft, via its brick-and-mortar stores and online -- a fact that some analysts believe has contributed to the product's unimpressive sales so far.

Microsoft reportedly planned to manufacture between 3 million to 5 million Surface devices in the fourth quarter, but brokerage firm Detwiler Fenton early this month projected that only 500,000 to 600,000 of the tablets will actually be sold during this period. The firm pointed to the Surface's lack of retail presence as a reason for its sub-par sales.

"Lack of distribution is killing the product," AllThingsD quoted Detwiler Fenton as saying. "Mixed reviews and a [$499] starting price tag certainly don't help, but lack of retail exposure at Best Buy and others is severely depressing sales."

Low retail exposure may also be hampering Windows 8 devices other than Microsoft's self-produced Surface. While Microsoft has said that sales of Windows 8 upgrade licenses are outpacing those of Windows 7, sales of actual Windows 8 devices are under-performing compared to sales of Windows 7 devices a year ago, according to a recent NPD report. Nomura analyst Rick Sherlund suggested that Microsoft's hardware partners may have been slow to bring Windows 8-based devices to market, contributing to an "awkward" launch for the OS.

About the Author

Gladys Rama is the senior site producer for Redmondmag.com, RCPmag.com and MCPmag.com.

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