WP7 smartphone supplies 'tight,' Microsoft says

But availability expected to improve in coming weeks

Windows Phone 7 smartphones have only been on sale since Monday through two wireless carriers in the U.S. and already Microsoft is saying "initial supplies are tight."

A Microsoft spokeswoman said via e-mail that "initial supplies are tight" and that some customers have been "disappointed to learn their local stores are already out of stock." She added, "We hear their concerns and are working diligently with out partners to bring more phones to stores in the coming weeks."

However, that doesn't mean customers can't buy the three models of WP7 smartphones from T-Mobile or AT&T. A Computerworld spot check of Boston area stores on Thursday found that all three were available, albeit in small numbers. They were also available via the carriers' Web sites.

A T-Mobile spokeswoman said there is no shortage of its only WP7 phone, the HTC HD7, despite a brief sellout of the device on the company's Web site earlier in the week.

For its part, AT&T didn't admit to a widespread shortage, although a spokeswoman said "some stores may temporarily be out of a particular model. But customers can expect regular shipments of additional inventory every few days."

AT&T began selling the HTC Surround and Samsung Focus smartphones on Monday and will soon sell the LG Quantum, too.

The description of a "tight supply" has fueled speculation that Microsoft could be holding back supplies artificially to bolster the impression the smartphones are hard to get and, therefore, popular.

How the phones do in their first few days on the market is critical to Microsoft, especially since it has spent $500 million on a TV ad campaign for WP7 and badly needs to restore its image in the mobile computing market after problems with its Windows Mobile operating system and the early termination of its Kin phones.

Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, argued that "conspiracy theorists would claim that [WP7] shortages are deliberate to make it seem like demand is higher." And while some retailers do limit supplies for products such as popular athletic sneakers, that's "not a common practice for cell phone vendors who genuinely want volume sales -- and certainly not for platform vendors [such as Microsoft] who are trying to establish an installed base for developers to target."

Greengart said his own checks with channel suppliers indicated each store is getting a "very limited number" of WP7 phones.

In Computerworld's spot check in the suburban Boston area, a T-Mobile USA corporate store and an AT&T corporate store both claimed to have supplies of three different WP7 phones as of midday Thursday. There were "quite a few" of both the HTC Surround and the Samsung Focus at the AT&T store in Framingham, Mass., a store clerk said. And there were seven HTC HD7 smartphones in stock at the T-Mobile store nearby, a clerk said.

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