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Surface Pro again out of stock; Microsoft underestimated demand, argues analyst

February 22, 2013 03:17 PM ET

"That made perfect sense then, and didn't bother OEMs too much," Gottheil continued. "I'd also argue that Microsoft succeeded at that. It has been able to increase awareness of Windows tablets, and been able to define Windows 8 tablets as a different breed of cat.

"But somewhere along the line, their emphasis shifted," Gottheil said, of Microsoft. "They started saying, 'We're a device company,' they broadened distribution, they launched a large marketing campaign to make the Surface the thing you want to buy."

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's contention in his annual letter to shareholders last October that, "We see ourselves as a devices and services company," was the first public pronouncement of the shift in strategy.

In Gottheil's scenario, Microsoft's expectations for the Surface under that first strategy were necessarily low, and it placed orders accordingly. "They scoped out much lower component orders," Gottheil speculated, of Microsoft's doings last year.

The current shortages, then, are a result of plotting out one path, then changing directions after the initial ramp-up for the tablet was set in stone with suppliers.

And it may take some time for Microsoft to balance supply and demand, Gottheil warned. Touchscreens are tight for most device makers -- Apple seems to be one of the few OEMs to be immune, likely because of its longer history sourcing components for its iPad line -- and it's possible Microsoft will have trouble upping production of the Surface because of that.

"Microsoft just didn't get a chair at the touchscreen table early enough," said Gottheil.

Analysts and vendors expect that touchscreen inventories will climb in the second half of this year as more production comes on line to meet demand by traditional PC notebook makers, part of which was sparked by Windows 8, part, said Gottheil, due to an increasing familiarity with touch on tablets and an expectation that the same functionality should be on laptops.

"I don't think that many [vendors] expected people to want touchscreens on old-style PCs," said Gottheil.

covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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