Preston Gralla

Microsoft's Surface 2 sells out in many outlets -- is that good or bad news?

December 18, 2013 2:14 PM EST

Microsoft's Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro are sold out in many places, which sounds like good news for Microsoft. But is it really a good thing, or an artificially created shortage?

Mashable reports that the Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro have been sold out at Microsoft's online store, Walmart's online store, and at a number of Best Buys. Whether they're available seems to be dependent on the day, because I've found them both at Microsoft's online store. As I write this, though, Surface 2 is sold out at Walmart, while the Surface 2 Pro is available. At Best Buy, at least one configuration, the 64GB version of the Surface 2, is sold out, while other configurations are available. On Amazon, they're available, although most configurations show only between five and 10 units left.

That sounds like good news for the revamped Surface line. But being sold out does not necessarily mean big sales numbers. Last year, for example, Microsoft opened up orders for the Surface RT pre-launch, and sold out within a day. We know how that turned out: dismal Suface RT sales and a $900 million writedown on unsold Surface RT inventory. Some people even attribute the blunder to contributing to Steve Ballmer's departure from Microsoft.

Conspiracy theorists believed that Microsoft had created an artificial shortage in the early days of Surface sales in 2012 in order to make people believe it was a big seller, and therefore more desirable.

So what's going on in 2013? Is there an artificially created shortage, or are the Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro really selling like gangbusters?

Computerworld's Gregg Keizer reports that there's no conspiracy at work -- analysts say that based on overall poor sales of the previous-generation Surface and Surface RT, Microsoft played things conservatively this time around and manufactured fewer devices so that they won't be stuck with unsold inventory.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, told Computerworld that it isn't just Microsoft doing this, but all hardware makers:

"Everybody scaled back production. "Not just Microsoft. Last year, everyone thought that Windows 8 was going to make everyone's whole. This year, every company went at this quarter a lot more conservatively."

He added:

"Microsoft certainly looked at sales projections for 2013 with a much more careful eye. So [Surface] may be doing well, but that's probably compared to a much lower projected sales figure this year."

Aside from the shortages, there's evidence that the Surface is finally starting to catch on. The last generation Windows RT-based Surface was the top-selling item at Best Buy on Black Friday, beating even Apple's iPad. And when TechCrunch analyzed Google Trends search data recently, it found that the Surface 2 outstripped past searches for its predecessors, the Surface RT and Surface Pro.

In addition, there's evidence that the Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro line could soon become the second best-selling line of tablets, behind the iPad, and beating out the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Google Nexus. ChangeWave Research's most recent figures show that 8% of people who plan on buying tablets in the next 90 days plan on buying a Surface of some kind. That's just behind the Samsung Galaxy Tab with 9%, and the Google Nexus, with 9%. In the previous survey conducted in August, 13% of people had plans to buy the Samsung Galaxy Tab, 12% had plans to buy the Google Nexus and 7% had plans to buy the Surface. So interest in the Galaxy Tab and Nexus is falling, while interest in the Surface is growing.

It all adds up to good news for the Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro. The shortages may be due to low inventory, but that only means that Microsoft is getting smarter at gauging consumer interest.