Attendees of Microsoft TechEd North America 2013 rushed to the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center Monday morning to buy Microsoft's own touch-screen tablets for pennies on the dollar. There was an initial stampede, and long lines are expected to continue until the event ends Thursday night.
Not familiar with Microsoft TechEd? The week-long conference for Microsoft IT pros and developers from all over the world has been held in New Orleans several times, most recently in 2010. A greater concentration of Windows geeks would be hard to find, and so why not build goodwill by selling Microsoft's iPad challenger at a deep discount?
At the event, the Surface Pro is selling at the event for $399! The Surface RT is going for $99! Credentialed conference-goers are allowed to purchase either model or both. A sell-out isn't likely, either. A source told Fox 8 News that the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant brought enough inventory to New Orleans to sell at least one tablet to every TechEd attendee and then some.
Until now, Microsoft's marketing of the Surface tablets for Windows 8 and Windows RT has been less than aggressive, presumably to preserve good relations with big Windows customers, like HP, Dell, Acer, ASUS, Sony, Toshiba, and Lenovo. It looks, however, like this is going to change.
The list price of the Surface RT was recently lowered and a TV campaign comparing it to the iPad launched. The company then announced it would throw-in a free Surface Touch or Type cover (up to a $130 value) with the purchase of a Surface RT between mid-May and the end of June.
The frenzy at TechEd clearly shows that Microsoft's Surface tablets are irresistible at the right price. Several attendees standing in line at the TechEd store said their purchases were completely unplanned and forced them to cut-back on their sight-seeing.
So what's in it for Microsoft? Some think the company might be trying to unload inventory before the refreshed Surface line debuts at its BUILD Conferencein San Francisco on June 26th.
The new Surface Pro is expected to adopt Intel's new 4th generation processors, known as "Haswell," which reports say yield slightly more power and drastically improve battery life. Others speculate that a new Surface RT might be joining the lineup, one designed to better compete with Apple's iPad Mini, Google's Nexus 7, and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD.
None of this matters, however, to the hundreds of Windows administrators, developers, system architects, and trainers who know a good deal when they see one. TechEd is normally a Microsoft love fest, but Surface tablets became more plentiful at the Convention Center than Saints jerseys in Champion Square before a home game!
Surface RT normally starts at $449 (32GB model). The unit offers all-day battery life (up to 8 hours), integrated kickstand, flash storage, one USB 2.0 port, a MicroSD card slot, and a 16:9 wide screen, high-definition display. RT Surface models also come with the Microsoft Office 365 Preview Edition (sans Microsoft Outlook). The Surface Touch cover, which is oddly devoid of function keys (F1, F2, F3, F4, etc.), comes in red, magenta, or cyan and lists for $129.99.
Surface Pro usually starts at $899 with 64GB flash storage. A model with 128GB is also available. Both are powered by an Intel Core i5 processor and come with a stylus (compatible with Wacom technology), one USB 3.0 port, a 10-point HD touch screen, integrated kickstand, front/rear webcams, and a MicroSD card slot. Keyboard covers and HDMI/SVGA adapters are optional.
The Pro can run both Windows 8 apps and legacy Windows desktop software. The Surface RT cannot "side load" software, meaning it can only run apps obtained from the Windows app store.
For now, it's not known whether the general public will ever see prices for the Surface Pro or the Surface RT that TechEd attendees experienced. Consumers, however, should keep a watchful eye on the Microsoft Online Store and other outlets for possible price reductions.
CORRECTION: Wednesday's on-air tech reports contained two inaccuracies:
1.) I said that the Surface RT tablet comes with Microsoft Office Preview Edition that will eventually expire. In fact, the version of Microsoft Office 365 Preview Edition bundled with the Surface RT will not expire.
2.) Because the Surface Pro review unit arrived with both the Surface Touch and Surface Type keyboards, I assumed the retail SKU did as well. Neither keyboard, however, is bundled with the Surface Pro. A Surface Type or Surface Touch must be purchased separately.
I sincerely apologize for these errors.