February 04, 2013, 4:54 PM — Microsoft's Surface RT tablet has a sales problem, according to new analyst estimates. Despite the almost omnipresent Surface RT advertising blitz that has been blanketing television screens for months now, IHS iSuppli believes that only 680,000 to 750,000 of the tablets have sold since the slate's October 26 launch, while IDC released a report Thursday stating that Microsoft only shipped 900,000 Surface RT tablets to retail.
If true, this is disappointing news for Microsoft. More worrying than the sales figures, however, is IHS iSuppli's report of "very high" return rates, which could hint at even greater concerns about Windows RT's very viability as a platform.
IHS iSuppli analyst Rhoda Alexander didn't disclose detailed return rate estimates during her chat with CNET, though she did say, "It seems to be linked in a lot of cases to a steep learning curve of the [Windows 8] OS--which is not necessarily intuitive."
In other words, the presumed cause for the high level of returns isn't a problem with the Surface RT tablet, which is a beautifully designed piece of hardware. It's an underlying problem with Windows RT itself--and it isn't the only one.
A quick word of caution
Before we dive into this too deeply, it's worth noting that many of the Surface RT tablets sold thus far probably sold via Microsoft's website and stores, as Staples and Best Buy--the only other retailers selling the slate--didn't begin offering it until mid-December. Microsoft doesn't share retail sales information with analysts, so iSuppli's estimates are far from official and likely gleaned from a mixture of third-party retailers and component channel sources.
In other words, the report of above-average Surface RT return rates is a highly educated guesstimate, not gospel. I've reached out to Microsoft, several retailers, and Windows RT tablet manufacturers to get a more concrete handle on return rates for the Surface RT and Windows RT devices in general.
Got it? Good. Let's talk Windows RT.
Core problems with Windows RT
This isn't the first time complaints have surfaced about Windows' new modern UI. Usability experts have slammed the UI again and again, and we noted similar concerns in our own review of the Surface RT.