Microsoft has finally opened up the distribution of its Surface tablet to the wider channel, almost two years after the product first launched.
At its Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Orlando this morning, the vendor announced its plans to allow partners to sell the device.
At the moment, only a handful of resellers are able to sell the kit as part of its Authorised Reseller Programme, but in the coming months, the vendor claims it wants to get "a few thousand" selling the gear.
When Microsoft first unveiled the Surface tablet, it sold it direct and opened up to only a few resellers in each country a year later, which has been its distribution strategy until now.
During this period of limited distribution, Microsoft insisted it was testing the waters before making a big splash.
Speaking to CRN ahead of today's announcement, Microsoft's channel chief Phil Sorgen said this was an important step.
"We were not opposed to expansion – we are doing this in a very calculated, thoughtful way," he said. "This was a new product category for us and we wanted to make sure we could be successful in any partnerships we go into."
He said the vendor has learned a lot over the past two years.
"There are a couple of things we have matured in – we're on Surface Pro 3, so we have a different product in market. The second thing is, we've continued to grow our global footprint in terms of the number of markets [we are in]. If you go back two years when we introduced the Surface strategy, we were in fewer markets, we had fewer products and we were – candidly – brand new in the commercial hardware market on this type of device.
"Our customers and distribution partners and channel know you have to have all the ecosystem fully built out from the standpoint of replacement units, stock and inventory, and all those components. Those were the things we [wanted to ensure] we were excellent at."
Missed the boat?
Two years ago when Surface first launched, the tablet market was booming. IDC claimed that in Q4 of 2013, sales of the devices globally were up 28 per cent annually and 62 per cent on the previous quarter. But in data released last month, IDC said the market has now slowed and that in 2015, shipments will slump 3.8 per cent compared with 2014.
Sorgen (pictured) insisted Microsoft has not left it too late to take its Surface tablet mainstream.
"We don't think we've missed the boat," he said. "We think the demand for Surface 3 product is very strong. You've probably heard us say this – I hope you've head us say this – we think this is the tablet that can replace your laptop."
During its period of limited distribution, many Microsoft partners that had initially been interested in selling the Surface got tired of waiting and instead pushed other devices from the likes of HP and Dell.
Sorgen said this is not necessarily a bad thing for Microsoft.
"Many of those partners have, and will continue to have, lines [from other vendors] and those are important partnerships to us as well," he said.
"Surface Pro 3 isn't the only innovation in the marketplace and winning with Windows 10 is the most important priority to us. So our competitor is not specifically HP or Dell. There is room for all of us and we are going to work aggressively with them to be successful as well. There is a spot in the market for Surface Pro 3 and we have the partners to participate in that."
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