October 17, 2012, 3:18 PM — Microsoft has exhausted its initial supply of the lowest-priced Surface RT tablet, which now is backordered by three weeks.
On Wednesday, the company's pre-order website noted, "Order now for shipment within 3 weeks" for the $499 32GB tablet.
That model lacks a cover-cum-keyboard.
Microsoft yesterday kicked off pre-orders for the Surface RT, its first entry into tablet design and manufacturing. The Surface RT comes in three configurations: a 32GB model at $499, a 32GB device with a Touch Cover for $599, and a 64GB model with that same cover at $699. Touch Covers are also available separately for $119.99, and the Type Cover, a slightly thicker keyboard with key travel more like that of a lightweight notebook, costs $129.99.
The two higher-priced SKUs, or stock-keeping units, remain available for delivery by Oct. 26, the official launch date for Windows 8, its spinoff Windows RT, and hardware powered by both new operating systems.
Although the entry-level Surface RT was out of stock Wednesday, the Type Cover -- which one might expect would be ordered alongside the keyboard-less tablet -- was not. Orders for the Type Cover will be fulfilled by Oct. 26, Microsoft said.
Customers may be opting for the lowest-priced model -- and passing on a keyboard -- simply to save dollars.
"The entry-level product includes no typing solution and is pretty transparently an opening price point gambit," said Stephen Baker, an analyst with the NPD Group. "But there's no way to know how many people bought, or didn't buy, one of the covers."
In other words, Baker continued, don't read too much into either the backorder or the fact that the two covers are still available.
Even so, he was surprised that Microsoft offered a cover-less Surface RT. "To some extent, without a [Touch or Type] Cover, then the Surface is just another tablet," Baker said. "With a cover, it's both a consumption and creation device."
Ever since June, when Microsoft unveiled its Surface project -- which also includes a Windows 8 Pro-powered tablet set to ship in late January 2013 -- the company has aggressively promoted the cover-slash-keyboard. In its opening television advertisement for the Surface, which ran Monday night in the U.S., Microsoft almost exclusively focused on the cover.