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Microsoft supporting select partners for Surface 2 launch

Mobility

Microsoft Corp. is gearing its device distribution strategy to include its channel partners as a major cog just ahead of the anticipated launch of the Surface 2 tablet, according to one partner.

Microsoft has issued invitations to the press to attend a Sept. 23 event in New York City that is related to the Surface. As evidenced by the invitation e-mailed to reporters, many are expecting Microsoft to unveil its next-generation Surface devices. The timing of a fall or winter release of Surface would closely follow the release of Windows 8.1, the first major patch to Microsoft’s touch screen-friendly operating system.

Microsoft is hiring staff in preparation for a strong effort behind its devices and services strategy, says Keith Groom, the director of Microsoft Solutions at solution provider Softchoice Corp. After a recent briefing on new hardware being released by Microsoft, Groom says the vendor is providing Softchoice with a lot of resources to assist with its new strategy, announced by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer earlier this year.

“This is a full-court press by Microsoft,” Groom says. “This is a very interesting time in the partner relationship with Microsoft, to be able to begin to sell hardware devices.”

Softchoice has been selling Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Surface RT tablets since mid-August alongside four other Surface resellers in Canada. When the Microsoft Surface RT was first released last fall, it was only available through Microsoft’s retail stores and for order online. But that strategy is changing for its hardware yet to be released, according to Groom.

“Microsoft’s strategy going forward is to enable partners to sell their hardware devices,” he says.

Microsoft is providing Softchoice with two dedicated support staff in Canada related to its devices push, he adds. It is also committing a marketing budget to demand generation for new devices and providing channel program incentives with specific funding programs related to the Surface tablet.

Microsoft’s effort to sell Surface as a flagship device for its new-look operating system in Windows RT and Windows 8 has been rocky. Despite a major advertising push with the release of the Surface RT last October, it was only available in Microsoft Store locations. In its most recent financial report, Microsoft disclosed that it had been hit with a $900 million write-down on excess Surface RT stock.

Demand for the tablets in Canada has been “OK,” Groom says. Some Softchoice customers are buying the tablets for testing and development, but no large roll outs have been completed. Groom says about 60 per cent of the orders are for the Pro tablet and 40 per cent are for the RT.

“Having the Surface tablet is one more bullet in our gun,” he says. “It completes our portfolio.”

Microsoft’s advantage in selling devices is that it can pre-install software like Office on them, he says.