Microsoft, Apple cut deals to clear out tablet, notebook stock

Microsoft and Apple last week kicked off promotions that may signal inventory clearing as they prepare their next generations of hardware.

On Friday, Microsoft debuted a deal that hands a free keyboard-cover to buyers of its Surface RT tablet.

The Surface RT offer runs from May 31 to June 30 in the U.S., Canada, and the European countries where Microsoft sells the tablet, including the U.K., Germany, France and the Netherlands. Buyers of either the 32GB or 64GB Surface RT -- which in the U.S. list for $499 and $599, respectively -- will receive a free Touch Cover or Type Cover, or one of the limited edition Touch Covers.

The Touch Cover usually costs $120, while the Type Cover sells for $130.

Friday's promotion was the second discount Microsoft announced last week: On Wednesday, Microsoft said attendees of TechEd North America 2013, a conference that runs June 3-6 in New Orleans, will be able to purchase a 64GB Surface RT for $99 and a 128GB Surface Pro for $399.

Only TechEd attendees will be eligible for the special prices, but they can buy up to one of each device. The $99 Surface RT comes with a Touch Cover, representing a 83% discount. A 128GB Surface Pro regularly runs $999, putting the TechEd discount at 60%.

Both prices were under Microsoft's cost, according to analysts' estimates of the "bill of materials" (BOM), or the cost of the components in the devices. Last year, Sameer Singh of Tech-Thoughts pegged the Surface RT's BOM at more than $300, and that of the Surface Pro at over $600.

It's unknown whether Microsoft will make the same Surface Pro/Surface RT discount available to attendees of BUILD, the developer's conference slated for June 26-28 in San Francisco. D. Begley, the marketing manager for TechEd, told commenters who asked about BUILD discounts to query the team responsible for the developer gathering.

Although Microsoft has only recently reaffirmed its commitment to Windows RT, the operating system that powers Surface RT, the two offers may hint that the company is drawing down stock prior to introducing new tablets.

New, smaller Surface tablets are expected. In April, Microsoft's then-CFO promised that Microsoft and its OEM partners would launch smaller, less-expensive tablets "in the coming months."

The deals' timing is another clue that Microsoft is trying to get rid of its Surface inventory before launching new models. Its original tablets are coming up on their first anniversary -- Microsoft surprised the industry with its own hardware on June 18, 2012 -- and the BUILD conference at the end of this month would be a perfect stage for unveiling new tablets.

Microsoft is also expected to follow other OEMs in adopting new Intel processors, those from the "Haswell" architecture, that boast improved graphics performance and better battery life, for its Windows 8 Surface Pro device.

Microsoft has so far declined to state Surface RT and Surface Pro sales figures. IDC pegged Surface RT shipments -- which are different than sales, since they account for devices manufactured but not yet sold -- for the fourth quarter of 2012 at about 900,000 units, but just 200,000 for all Windows RT-powered devices, of which the Surface RT represented the bulk, in Q1 of 2013.

Like its rival, Apple also launched a promotion last week that could be seen as an attempt to clear out inventory.

On Thursday, Apple got an early start on back-to-school season -- or at prep graduation gift giving -- by doubling the educational discount of the 13-in. MacBook Pro notebook to $200, lowering the price of the entry-level laptop to $999 for parents and teachers of K-12 students, as well for as college teachers, staff and students.

The more expensive MacBook Pro with 8GB of memory, a faster processor and a larger hard disk drive, now costs $1,299 in that same deal, $200 under the retail list price.

Neither of the MacBook Pro notebooks at discounted prices includes the Retina-style display.

Apple is expected to announce new MacBook laptops at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which starts June 10 in San Francisco. Those new laptops will likely feature Intel's Haswell processors that promise 50% longer battery life and double the graphics performance of the Core CPUs known by their code-name Ivy Bridge.

Supplies of some models of the MacBook Air line have also been in short supply, an indication that that line will also be refreshed at WWDC with the Haswell processors.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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