With 4 million unsold Surface tablets, Microsoft slashes prices for schools

The RT-based Surface tablet has been a bust, with an estimated 4 million unsold units, so Microsoft has a way to possibly unload some: Sell them at steep discounts to schools. But even at more than half-off, will schools buy?

Microsoft is slashing the price of RT-based Surface tablets by more than half. Between now and August 31, K-12 schools as well as colleges can buy the 32 gigabyte Surface RT for $199, less than half of its normal $499 price. They can also buy the $599 Surface RT with Touch Cover for $249 (normal price: $599), and the $629 Surface RT with Type Cover for $289 (normal price: $629). Only educational institutions can buy them; individuals such as teachers and students can't.

It's a great deal, especially considering that the tablets come with Office. The keyboards that come with Surface tablets are quite good, and turn the tablets into a reasonably good notebooks. At $250 for a keyboard-equipped tablet, that's a steal.

There's a reason for those steep discounts: Consumers simply aren't buying Surface tablets. IDC says that in the most recent quarter, Surface and Surface Pro combined sold only 900,000 units, and that "many of these units were Surface Pro," not the RT-based Surface.

AllThingsD notes that there are rumors that Microsoft has manufactured as many at 5 million Surface RT tablets. That means that Microsoft could be sitting on unsold inventory of more than 4 million.

Will Microsoft's steep discounts succeed? Selling to schools could certainly eat into that inventory somewhat. And there's an even larger potential multiplier effect: Students who use the tablets in school might be more likely to buy them for home. Of course, they may be subject to a bit of sticker shock when they go to buy one at $499 and up, so I'm not sure how much the multiplier effect will work.

But there's an even bigger potential problem for the sale working -- a shortage of great apps. The iPad is chockfull of great apps, including many for education. There are far fewer for the RT-based Surface.

So my guess is that at less than half price, Microsoft will find plenty of buyers. But I don't expect that to jump-start the failing Surface, and I don't believe it will help move massive amounts of unsold Surface inventory.

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