Microsoft Eyeing Docking Station for Surface?

Microsoft Surface ProIf the rumors prove true, the next generation of the Microsoft Surface tablet could have a docking station. This will position the Windows 8 tablet as a PC replacement and finally make it ready for the totality of the channel.

Details are thin on Microsoft Corp.’s plans for a Surface docking station. Citing sources, Web sites Neowin.Net and the Windows SuperSite report the dock will likely appear Oct. 18 when Microsoft unveils Windows 8.1. This is also the anticipated release date of the next generation of Surface, which will likely include Surface Pro 2, running NAVIDIA and Intel Haswell chips.

Speculation is the dock will include a power source for recharging the tablets, a video port for connecting to an external monitor, and up to three USB ports. No pricing information is available.

Microsoft is mum on the prospects of a Surface docking station. However, it is no longer denying a docking station development.

The company is under increasing scrutiny over its strategy and performance with Microsoft Surface. In July, Microsoft had to write off $900 million in unsold Surface RT inventory and accessories. Analysts estimate Microsoft has sold 1.5 million Surface units since they hit the market in October 2012; sales are a far cry from those of market leader Apple Inc., which sold more than 75 million iPads in the same period.

Critics and partners have charged Microsoft with botching its Surface roll out by not fully engaging the channel. Not until July did Microsoft authorize a handful of North America partners — mostly direct market resellers — to sell Surface tablets. Since then, the Surface channel has expanded to 17 countries, but still restricted to a limited number of resellers.

Thus far, Microsoft has muddled its way through the market by positioning Surface as a consumer and commercial device with little distinction between uses. In contrast, OEM partners such as Lenovo, Toshiba International Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. have fielded Windows 8 tablets exclusively for business users. And, many of the business-oriented tablets do have docking stations.

Microsoft hasn’t bowed to channel pressure to make Surface generally available for resale. However, the development and release of a Surface docking station could change the equation. Such an accessory will make Surface more of a PC replacement, and accelerating sales of such devices would require a broader channel.

In response to channel critics, Microsoft told solution providers the best way they could influence the broad release of resellers is to expand their sales of other vendors’ Windows tablets. This position could be Microsoft’s way of smoothing tattered relations with companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell Inc. and Acer Inc., which bristled when they had to compete with their operating system provider for device sales.

Regardless of the appearance of a Surface dock, Microsoft must rethink its tablet channel strategy. IDC projects conventional PC sales will fall more than 10 percent in 2013, dragging down Windows commanding operating system market share.

Prior to the release of Windows 8, Microsoft was expected to expand the total tablet market by offering users a familiar platform that could be integrated with existing business infrastructure. That hasn’t happened because of Microsoft’s limited distribution strategy. If Microsoft doesn’t release Surface to the channel, it will continue to slog its way into the device and mobility market.