Apple’s iPad outsold Microsoft’s Surface RT by about 20-to-1 last quarter, according to estimates from UBS analyst Brent Thill, as reported by Business Insider Monday. Microsoft’s large gamble in the consumer tablet industry sold approximately 1 million units during the quarter, compared to what many expect to be more than 20 million iPads for Apple, according to Mr. Thill.
Using the sales figures for each device to make qualitative judgments about the Surface itself is unwise, however, as Microsoft’s unusual distribution strategy accounted for a significant decrease in potential sales, Mr. Thill argues. The Surface was only available at Microsoft’s physical retail stores and in limited quantities via the company’s online store during the quarter. Conversely, the iPad was available at Apple Retail Stores (which far outnumber Microsoft Stores), cellular carrier stores, electronics stores, and large retail outlets.
As a result of his findings, Mr. Thill cut his original sales estimate of 2 million Surface RT devices in half and lowered his expectations going forward. He now predicts only 2.5 million Surface RT sales for all of fiscal 2013.
Note, however, that Mr. Thill is only addressing the consumer-focused ARM-based Surface RT. The Surface Pro, similar in form factor but powered by a full x86 chipset, may have a brighter future. “Surface Pro is the more promising SKU as an enterprise iPad alternative,” he said.
As noted by AllThingsD, Mr. Thill’s report is more optimistic than one a week ago from J.P. Morgan analyst John DiFucci. He estimated Surface RT sales in the December quarter of only 700,000, with a prediction of 2.6 million for fiscal 2013. “We believe a number of factors, including price, the lack of cellular connectivity, and relatively lukewarm critical reviews will limit its broad appeal at this time,” Mr. DiFucci said in his report.
Specific numbers on sales of iPads and Surface devices should be revealed by the end of the month during each company’s quarterly results call. Apple will announce its results on Wednesday, January 23 at 5:00 PM EST, while Microsoft will report its results a day later, January 24, at 5:30 PM EST.