Like Zune, Microsoft can't get Surface right

When Microsoft launched its portable music player Zune in 2006 few thought it would be a serious contender to Apple’s iPod. The fact that it was a US-only release spoke volumes. It was a product the firm simply didn’t have enough confidence in for a global launch.

And now we’re faced with a similar launch strategy for Microsoft Surface Windows 8 Pro. Yesterday the Redmond, Wash.-based corporation announced the delayed slate will be "available for purchase on Feb. 9, 2013, in the United States and Canada at all Microsoft retail stores, microsoftstore.com, Staples and Best Buy in the US, as well as from a number of locations in Canada". And the rest of the world? There’s no word.

The general view is that Surface Pro will eventually make its way to the UK, Europe, Australia and all of the other major markets in due course, but then it was expected that would be the case with Zune.

When most other tech giants launch a major new product they tend to do it globally. Apple announces a new product -- like the iPad and the iPad mini -- and bang! It’s available everywhere. Even Google, with its supply issues, has made sure its Nexus 4 is unavailable everywhere, not just in the US.

There’s not even a nod to the rest of the world in Microsoft’s Surface Pro statement. No "and coming to other markets soon".  It’s just "United States and Canada" and moving on… The RT version is being pushed out to 13 additional markets worldwide, Microsoft says in the same announcement, before promoting some accessories you might like. But what about Surface Pro outside of North America? Silence. Tweets and Facebook posts asking about global availability are simply ignored.

Surface’s distribution has been a mess from the word go. Initially the RT version was sold only through Microsoft’s stores and online. The distribution was expanded to third party retailers, but really not many, and far too close to Christmas to grab the attention of shoppers.

In the UK I’ve seen plenty of commercials for the tablet on TV, as well as a spot of guerilla marketing (adverts sprayed on walls in London and Manchester), but given Surface RT is currently only available through one major retailer (John Lewis) Microsoft should think of promoting its product with an A-Team theme:

"If you want a tablet -- and not an iPad or Android product -- and IF you can find it -- maybe you can buy… MS Surface.  Dum de dum, dum, dum, dum. Dum de dum, dum, dum, dum, dum..."

I used Surface RT for a week, and in that short period I grew to really like it. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Surface Pro, with a view to maybe buying, but Microsoft isn’t making it available to me, or most of the world.

If, as a lot of pundits are saying, Microsoft plans to release a new Xbox later this year, do you think the firm will just release it in the US, or will it be sold everywhere? My money is on the latter. (When the Xbox 360 launched in 2005 there was a two week gap between it going on sale in the UK and Europe, but we at least knew it was coming). So why the tentative approach with Surface? Doesn’t Microsoft want it to succeed? Doesn’t it believe it can?

Microsoft Surface is a good product. Rough around the edges and slightly overpriced, sure. But a product that deserves to find an audience, which it won’t if Microsoft isn’t prepared to get behind it and finally get it out there. Everywhere.

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