Microsoft Corp. has sold about 1.5 million Surface devices, people with knowledge of the company’s sales said, a slow start in its bid to crack the fast-growing tablet market to make up for slumping personal-computer demand.
Microsoft has sold little more than a million of the Surface RT version and about 400,000 Surface Pros since their debuts, according to three people, who asked not to be named because sales haven’t yet been made public. The company had ordered about 3 million Surface RTs, they said. Brent Thill, an analyst at UBS AG, had initially projected that Microsoft would sell 2 million Surface RT devices in the December quarter alone.
The poor reception for Surface, unveiled last year, adds to challenges facing Microsoft’s Windows unit, which brings in a quarter of the company’s revenue. The devices are Microsoft’s first direct attempt to grab a slice of the surging market for tablets, seeking to take on Google Inc. and Apple Inc. and prove that Windows has a place in a world of touch screens and smartphone applications. That hasn’t happened so far, said Alex Gauna, an analyst at JMP Securities LLC in San Francisco.
“It’s pretty clear that things were bad entering the year, and at least for the moment they’re getting worse,” Gauna said. “The path to a successful Surface, in the same way that they were successful with Xbox, is not very clear to me right now.”
Catherine Brooker, a spokeswoman for Microsoft, declined to comment on Surface sales.
By contrast, Apple Inc. sold 22.9 million iPads in the quarter that ended in December. Worldwide tablet shipments reached 128.3 million units in 2012, according to IDC. Apple’s iPad accounted for 51 percent of the market.
Brendan Barnicle, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities, reduced revenue estimates for Microsoft’s current quarter, citing weak Surface demand. He projects the company will sell 600,000 tablets in the period, down from an earlier prediction of 1.4 million.
Elsewhere, the tablet market is booming. Shipments may jump 49 percent in 2013 to 190.9 million, IDC estimates, with unit sales expected to top 350 million by the end of 2017. This year, the devices are expected to outsell notebook computers for the first time, according to Williams Financial.