Microsoft planning initial Surface production run of 3 to 5 million units

Microsoft planning initial Surface production run of 3 to 5 million unitsGoogle chairman Eric Schmidt caused a bit of a stir last week when he said he didn't rank Microsoft as one of technology's Big Four – a statement you couldn't imagine hearing as little as five years ago.

Yet if Microsoft is to turn that around and become one of the major players again five years from now, the next few months are pivotal – in fact, we're entering arguably the most important time in Microsoft's history.

Not only are we about to see both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 emerge, but there's also the imminent arrival of the Microsoft Surface tablet, which sees Microsoft cast in the unfamiliar role of tablet manufacturer.

It's a brave move, but one Microsoft seems willing to back itself on – to the extent that it has reportedly lined up component orders consistent with building 3 to 5 million Surfaces by the end of the year.

So says the Wall Street Journal after consulting with its component supplier sources in Asia, with production of the Windows 8 slates reportedly having got underway earlier this month.

If the numbers are accurate, and it seems feasible given that another recent rumour claimed a figure of 3 million units, it puts the Microsoft Surface in the same bracket as Amazon's Kindle Fire and Google's Nexus 7 in terms of initial production run.

That's still well short of the kind of numbers the Apple iPad is racking up – and the ballpark figures we're expecting from the iPad mini when it launches in the next couple of weeks.

But when you consider the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 are the two top-selling Android tablets of all time, Microsoft is clearly taking this whole tablet business seriously.

Whether the Surface will actually sell anything like that number of units remains to be seen. Price is one obvious unknown, but there are others.

The two Android tablets it's being compared to are both 7in models coming in at under £200, but the Surface is a 10.6-incher, which means – in terms of size at least – it's pitched directly at the full-size Apple iPad, and we know how that's worked out for other tablet pretenders in the past.

Then of course there's the issue of Microsoft's other Windows 8 hardware partners. They've been kept waiting for a long time now for Microsoft to provide a version of Windows that's actually designed for touchscreen UIs, and are probably more than a little put out at having to build market share for the new OS while fighting off an unexpected hardware challenge from Microsoft itself.

At this point there remain more questions than answers, and by the end of the year we'll have a far clearer picture of what the future holds for Microsoft.

But to hazard a guess – and it is just a guess – I'd say regardless of whether Microsoft is actually building 3 to 5 million Surfaces or not, when it comes to actual unit sales it'll be lucky to get anywhere near that figure.

Read more about: Windows 8Microsoft Surface ProMicrosoft Surface RT

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11 comments

barrybarryk  Oct. 16, 2012 at 19:32

"and are probably more than a little put out at having to build market share for the new OS"

Um what? Windows has pretty much the entire PC market and the new OS seems designed around pushing new hardware sales (who has a touchscreen PC already?). OEMs will be chomping at the bit to get Win 8 machines to market. They'll just stop preinstalling Windows 7, you know just like every other launch of Windows

I can see them selling a tonne of Surface Pros if they're the first serious contender for a quality x86 tablet, but not the RT version

Harryisme  Oct. 16, 2012 at 19:36

For the price point of £399 for the RT, with a resolution only slightly above 720p, I get the feeling Microsoft is going to struggle to shift the 4 Million units it's got into production. We still have to see how much the other (and arguably more important) Intel based Tablet will retail for but judging from the RT's price £1000+ doesn't seem to be out of the question.

blizzard7  Oct. 16, 2012 at 21:17

For the price point of £399 for the RT, with a resolution only slightly above 720p, I get the feeling Microsoft is going to struggle to shift the 4 Million units it's got into production. We still have to see how much the other (and arguably more important) Intel based Tablet will retail for but judging from the RT's price £1000+ doesn't seem to be out of the question.

Can't really see why a 720p+ resolution is a problem on a small tablet. I've got a worse pixel density on my 13" MacBook Pro. I'd rather the wide-screen format and larger size over the higher resolution at this price point.

£1,000 is how much you'd spend on an equivalently specced non-touch screen, non-full HD MacBook Air so I don't think a £1,000 price tag is a problem.

rash  Oct. 16, 2012 at 22:11

I think the £480 price tag including the keyboard is a touch too high.

£400 inc. the keyboard is just right - I'm sure it will be down to £400 pretty soon once the 'I want this thing first' crowd have got one.

steviebub  Oct. 17, 2012 at 02:51

"Eric Schmidt caused a bit of a stir last week" - try a year ago. Those comments were made in April 2011

Stelph  Oct. 17, 2012 at 09:44

Now the iPad mini event has been announced I wonder how this will affect the surface sales? They arent really comparable products but I thnk a lot of people will be tempted by the cheaper iPad leaving really only the buisness market which, as seen with the previous tablets microsoft tried to launch, isnt too big a market

JanSt / MOD  Oct. 17, 2012 at 10:22

"Eric Schmidt caused a bit of a stir last week" - try a year ago. Those comments were made in April 2011
Yes, but Eric can't shut up :p He said it again (by omission), 5 days ago: http://www.businessinsider.com/google-chairman-eric-schmidt-microsoft-views-2012-10

socialjeebus  Oct. 17, 2012 at 11:15

"and are probably more than a little put out at having to build market share for the new OS"

Um what? Windows has pretty much the entire PC market and the new OS seems designed around pushing new hardware sales (who has a touchscreen PC already?). OEMs will be chomping at the bit to get Win 8 machines to market. They'll just stop preinstalling Windows 7, you know just like every other launch of Windows

I can see them selling a tonne of Surface Pros if they're the first serious contender for a quality x86 tablet, but not the RT version


Businesses too will be lapping these up, I know my company is desperate to get their hands on the Surface Pro for us staffers.

richto  Oct. 17, 2012 at 12:28

For the price point of £399 for the RT, with a resolution only slightly above 720p, I get the feeling Microsoft is going to struggle to shift the 4 Million units it's got into production. We still have to see how much the other (and arguably more important) Intel based Tablet will retail for but judging from the RT's price £1000+ doesn't seem to be out of the question.

The Pro versions are expected to be circa $900. But then they are unique as there is nothing anything like that powerful in the market yet. Even the iPad cant run OS-X apps...

The resolution isnt a limitation. You would need to have the Surface closer than 43cm from your eyes with 20/20 vision to be able to see a difference if it was a higher resolution. That is not likely to be an issue for most users.

The key thing is that this is more capable then the iPad, with a larger and wide format screen, full USB support and an SXDC memory slot, has a keyboard option, a stand, and has a better quality magnesium chassis, but at a lower price.

richto  Oct. 17, 2012 at 12:39

"and are probably more than a little put out at having to build market share for the new OS"

Um what? Windows has pretty much the entire PC market and the new OS seems designed around pushing new hardware sales (who has a touchscreen PC already?). OEMs will be chomping at the bit to get Win 8 machines to market. They'll just stop preinstalling Windows 7, you know just like every other launch of Windows

I can see them selling a tonne of Surface Pros if they're the first serious contender for a quality x86 tablet, but not the RT version


The RT version is aimed at consumers - this is a better iPad - and the ipad sells tens of millions so I can see it likely doing very well. I expect Microsoft to reduce the price after Xmas too - regardless of performance. I think the current price while fair could be less - but they don't want to upset their OEMs too much before they have commited to launching Windows RTproducts...Also I think Microsoft understandably want to have the Apple image of being the premium choice....

I can also see the Pro doing very well in the business market. Many IT departments have been dying for years to tell iPad users to FOAD and leave their toys at home -and now they can finally set a secure and manageable corporate standard...

blizzard7  Oct. 17, 2012 at 20:44


The resolution isnt a limitation. You would need to have the Surface closer than 43cm from your eyes with 20/20 vision to be able to see a difference if it was a higher resolution. That is not likely to be an issue for most users.

The key thing is that this is more capable then the iPad, with a larger and wide format screen, full USB support and an SXDC memory slot, has a keyboard option, a stand, and has a better quality magnesium chassis, but at a lower price.


Considering that with a Touch Cover and kickstand, you can use this like a full blown laptop, 40ish centimetres is a very reasonable difference. Now I'm not saying that 1366x768 is all you need, and I know that the iPad has a very nice resolution, but up to a point, pixel density doesn't matter that much in terms of perceived quality. The fact this has a bonded display is certain to make the display quality better.

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