The good news, Microsoft is delivering on its promise to blanket the media with Windows 8/Surface/Windows Phone 8 messages. But when I put my feet on the ground and took a look at local retail outlets what did I see? For PCs in general things were looking pretty good. The local Microsoft Store is crowded with people checking out both the Surface and all PC form factors. Best Buy was crowded with people checking out new PCs running Windows 8. The Dell Showcase made for a very prominent Windows 8 display. Staples was empty overall, but had a nice display of Windows 8 PCs. MicroCenter was crowded, also with people checking out new PCs, although unlike Best Buy it was a mix of Windows 7 and Windows 8 devices. And maybe the best news, I heard sales reps competently discussing Windows 8 and in one case addressing the Start Screen/Menu controversy. So that was the good news, but the bad news is far more important from a strategic standpoint.
There are just about no Windows Tablets or Convertibles in retail stores. The same goes for Windows Phone 8 devices. Let me get the later out-of-the-way and then I’ll go into the former in more detail.
I was in Denver’s Cherry Creek Mall yesterday and stopped in the AT&T Store to see the new Windows Phone 8 devices. All they had were mockups, no live devices. They suggested I try the Microsoft Kiosk (one of the holiday stores that Microsoft opened this year). Well, Microsoft didn’t have any Windows Phone 8 devices either. One of the sales reps told me that if there were any around he would buy one with his own money just so they had one to show people. Ok, I think this situation is a big enough “insert appropriate vulgar phrase here” by Microsoft, AT&T, Nokia, HTC, etc. to warrant some kind of award.
Now back to Windows 8. Windows 8 devices are featured prominently, often exclusively, at all retain outlets I visited. The Microsoft Store features the Surface as well as ASUS VivoTab RT, and the Kiosk is the dedicated to showcasing the Surface. But other retail outlets do not have tablets and they do not have convertibles, they just have traditional PC form factors. Most of those feature touch, making for great Windows 8 experiences. But where are the tablets?
I started my tablet-quest at Best Buy. No Windows tablets in the PC area. One convertible, a Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13, buried in the back away from the main display area. I go over to their tablet display, filled with Android devices and a separate little table for the iPad, and find no Windows tablets. I ask a sales rep if they have any Windows Tablets and he takes me over to the mobile phone area where a lone ASUS VivoTab RT sits lost amongst some Android mobile phones. No signage attests to its existence. I’ll give Best Buy a D-. At least they had a tablet and a convertible, though they were making no attempt to feature them. Things weren’t so good at a local Best Buy Mobile store. They had no Windows Tablets of any kind, and the sales reps weren’t happy about it. F.
How about Staples? No tablets. One Convertible, the Lenovo Thinkpad Twist. D-
That Dell Showcase? No tablets or convertibles. The sales rep is in love with the XPS 12, but they haven’t sent him one to display yet. They claim they are too busy meeting consumer demand to send out display models, which sounds good but you can tell the rep is tired of telling people that. They’ve given him dates for the display unit a couple of times, but it still hasn’t shown up. F.
MicroCenter? No convertibles. After walking around the store twice I’m convinced there are no Windows tablets either. Then I’m walking by a table displaying Android tablets and I see one of them lit up with the Windows 8 lock screen. No signage lets you know that it is a Windows 8 tablet. In fact, you can’t even tell what model it is unless you know that a TF600T is an ASUS VivoTab RT. No I did not know, I looked it up. F.
While Windows 8 may be doing just fine with the traditional PC buyer, the critical task for Microsoft is to capture a healthy share of the market that would otherwise move to the iPad or Android tablet. And they can’t do that if no tablets or convertibles are in the retail channel. So I’m rather concerned by what I’m seeing in my tour of retail outlets. If I just focus on tablets and convertibles the best grade I could give Microsoft is a D. That grade goes up considerably if I consider how well traditional form factors with the addition of touch screens are doing. But those are not what is going to change the market dynamics. Microsoft and its partners have to get their range of tablets and convertibles into the broad retail channel. NOW.