Microsoft on Tuesday announced that the Surface RT tablet will be available at more retailers later this month, as well as at additional Microsoft stores that will grow beyond temporary holiday stores into permanent outlets.
The announcement comes on the heels of lowered sales predictions for the Surface RT by analysts, with potentially only 600,000 of the tablets sold this year. The Surface RT, launched on Oct. 26, starts at $499.
Microsoft didn't indicate how many third-party stores, or which ones, it will rely on for sales. But Staples released a statement saying it would carry the Surface RT tablet at all its stores as well as online. Best Buy is also expected to sell the tablet.
Microsoft described the public's reaction to the Surface RT as positive -- not as less than expected -- with production actually being increased.
The company said it had planned to expand the retail presence in 2013, but decided to move the availability to more retailers earlier.
"The public reaction to Surface has been exciting to see," said Panos Panay, general manager of Surface. "We've increased production and are expanding the ways in which customers can interact with, experience and purchase Surface."
The statement said that in mid-December, buyers will be able to pick up a Surface RT in the U.S. and Australia at various unnamed retail stores, with more countries added in coming months. Surface tablets will continue to be sold at Microsoft retail stores in the U.S. and Canada and online in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, the UK and the U.S. Microsoft's holiday stores will be transitioned into permanent stores or specialty outlets.
There are currently 31 Microsoft stores and 34 holiday specialty stores.
The latest estimates of Surface RT sales for the 10.6-in tablet have ranged from 600,000 for all of 2012 from brokerage firm Detwiler Fenton to 1.3 million by IHS iSuppli.
Some analysts have seen the Surface RT as merely seeding the market for Windows RT, a variant of Windows 8 that runs on ARM-based processors. These analysts have said that sales of the tablet are intended to draw attention to the OS, which is also used in other tablets by other manufacturers competing with Surface.
A Surface Pro tablet running a full-blown version of Windows 8 will appear in January, and will start at $899. Microsoft hasn't announced plans for how or where it will be sold.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.