By Missing End-of-Year Sales, the Surface Pro May be Doomed

The latest information we have about the availability of the Surface Pro, that is the x86 version of Microsoft’s Surface that runs Windows 8 native apps – is that it will be available early in the new year.

That bleak scenario means that the Surface Pro will miss the entire Christmas buying season, setting it behind one year of sales behind its competitors such as the iPad and Samsung Note.

Microsoft’s Windows unit co-chief Tami Reller’s cheery claim last month of 40 million Windows 8 licenses sold did not reassure, because she gave no idea of the ratio of pre-installed systems to those bought by actual customers.

In addition, Market researcher NPD said last week that sales of Windows-based systems were down by 21% since Windows 8 launched on Oct. 26, when compared to the same period in 2011.

The major issue with Windows 8 laptops and convertibles is that they were meant to run on Intel’s Atom architecture.

This is the low-power, but x86-compatible chip that is meant to let such devices sip power just like the pervasive ARM chips.

However, Atom chips seem to notable by their absence. Information week reports:

Here’s the current availability of Clover Trail systems from the top five PC vendors, in no specific order. The ASUS Vivo Tab Smart? No launch date specified. The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 is “coming soon” according to the company’s website. As of Friday, an order placed on Hewlett-Packard’s website for the Envy X2 Windows 8 hybrid tablet/PC will be fulfilled on Jan. 7. It was supposed to launch Nov. 14. Dell’s estimated ship date for the standard version of its Clover Trail-powered Latitude 10 tablet is Dec. 28; for the enhanced version it’s Jan 4.

The only Clover Trail system I could find that’s available for immediate purchase is Acer’s Iconia W510 tablet. A Microsoft rep confirmed that it can be had directly from Redmond’s online store, but purchase quantities are limited to one. As of Friday, Amazon had exactly 18 units left of the $749 version that comes with keyboard, and was sold out of the standard, $599 version.

The end result is that Windows 8 sales are underperforming now due to unavailability of many of these systems.

The deeper problem is that Intel has failed thus far in providing a suitable mobile processor competitor to ARM. In fact, Clover Trail is 32-bit and a 64-bit ATOM will be unavailable until 2014.

So of course, the Windows 8 Pro will use the Intel Core i5 processor, not the missing-in-action Atom, similar to other convertibles and tablets.

Yes, that would be the power-guzzling Intel Core i5. Think buyers will notice? yes, I think they will. Plus, of course, we won’t be able to buy it until the holiday buying season is over.

But Microsoft’s assumption seems to be that businesses will save the day. As I wrote earlier, the jury is out on that.

Not being ready for, and basically missing the year-end sales season when the highest number of devices are sold (mainly as gifts) therefore seems to be a serious mistake for not only Microsoft but the entire Windows 8 mobile platform.

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