Microsoft Surface Sales “Starting Modestly”, Says Ballmer; Won’t Give Exact Sales Figures (Updated)

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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has told a French newspaper that sales of Redmond’s shiny new Windows 8 tablet PC, Surface, have gotten off to a modest start. Talking to French daily Le Parisien, published on Saturday, Ballmer is quoted as saying Surface sales “are starting modestly” but would not provide exact sales figures.

Ballmer reportedly put modest sales down to the slate only being available to buy online and in a few Microsoft stores in the U.S. We’ve reached out to Microsoft for more and will update with any response. Update: Microsoft said it has no further comment at this time. Microsoft has now provided the following statement regarding Ballmer’s use of the term “modest”

When asked about Surface, Steve’s use of the term “modest” was in relation to the company’s approach in ramping up supply and distribution of Surface with Windows RT, which has only been available via our online store and Microsoft retail and holiday stores in the U.S. and Canada.  While our approach has been modest, Steve notes the reception to the device has been “fantastic” which is why he also stated that “soon, it will be available in more countries and in more stores.

Surface RT — the lower end model of the two Surface tablets (Surface Pro being the forthcoming, higher end version, running full-fat Windows 8) — went on sale October 26. The Surface RT tablet starts at $499 for a 32GB version without the touch-sensitive keyboard cover, rising to $699 for a 64GB version with the keyboard cover included. Surface Pro has not launched yet.

Ballmer is also reported as telling the French newspaper that Surface Pro will launch within three months of Surface RT.

Asked about supply shortages of Surface, Ballmer told Le Parisien: “It’s a good sign,” adding that the company will “fix this problem quickly” — and noting that the increase in capacity is part of its strategy. CNET reported that the entry level Surface RT model was out of stock online for more than a week.

Ballmer’s modest assessment of Surface sales brings to mind his description of Windows Phone sales in July last year, when he described sales going from “very small to very small“. It remains to be seen whether Surface sales will outperform Windows Phone sales and ramp up quickly. Last month, the WSJ reported Microsoft anticipated selling as many as many as 3 to 5 million Surface tablets in Q4.

Touch cover problems

Responding to reports of early problems with the Surface’s Touch cover splitting — flagged up on this Surface forum, and via news outlets including the Guardian — Microsoft provided the following statement: “Microsoft makes every effort to ensure our customers receive a high quality product. We are in active contact with our Customer Support operations and are aware of a small number of instances of material separation. Customers can contact Microsoft Customer Support if they have any questions.”