Microsoft is expanding channel availability of its troubled Surface tablet by authorizing partners in 17 countries –Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom – to resell the Windows 8 device.
“Our plan has been to expand commercial distribution for Surface in a thoughtful way. This expansion continues to be via a select ecosystem of established channel partners with the precise geographical reach, tablet selling experience and commercial value-added services capabilities to deliver the type of business experience our customers need,” wrote Cyril Belikoff, director of Microsoft Surface, in the Surface Team blog.
In each country is getting at least one Surface reseller. Larger countries, such as France and Germany, are getting multiple resellers. In Canada, Long View Systems, a large systems integrator, and Softchoice, a large account reseller, are getting Surface. In the UK, resellers Phoenix, Softcat, SCC and Kelway are getting the authorization nod. Only Atea and Betchel/Comsoft are authorized to sell in more than two countries.
The Surface channel expansion comes just six weeks after Microsoft authorized a dozen U.S. direct market resellers to carry the tablet. Prior to that, Surface RT and Surface Pro was only available through direct Microsoft sales, Microsoft retail stores and a select number of outside resellers, including Best Buy and Staples.
While Microsoft claims it always wanted to take a measured, thoughtful approach to selling Surface to the channel, it has never clearly articulated that strategy to partners. As early as July 2012, Microsoft was promoting the coming release of its first tablet, but would say nothing about channel intentions or strategy.
Surface hit the market in October 2012 to much fanfare, but is basically considered a dud. No official figures are available, but analysts speculate Microsoft has sold just 1.5 million Surface tablets since the debut. Conversely, Apple sold 14.5 million iPad tablets in the second quarter alone.
Microsoft has more Surface and Windows 8 troubles than just its channel strategy. Almost all of its traditional OEM partners, including Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Acer, have walked away from the RT platform. Only Dell produces a Windows RT device.
Surface sales have been so poor that on July 15 Microsoft wrote off $900 million related to Surface RT unit and accessory backlog, and dropped the unit price by $150. In August, Microsoft temporarily dropped the Surface Pro price by $100; it called the reduction a back-to-school promotion.
Partners tell Channelnomics they could help Microsoft with the Surface problem if it were just made available to them. To date, Microsoft continues to deflect such calls while Surface sales continue to struggle.
What may boost Microsoft’s image and Surface sales is the forthcoming operating system update, Windows 8.1, which is due out in October. The new version will restore features to which many Windows users were accustom, such as the Start button, as well as include several improvements.