Microsoft launches special Chinese version of Surface Pro aimed at home users

Microsoft launched the Surface Pro in China on Tuesday -- and with it, a special version including a copy of Office Home & Student 2013

Microsoft is hoping to build momentum behind its Surface Pro tablet in China by launching a special edition including Office Home & Student 2013 -- but with Windows 8 Standard, rather than Windows 8 Pro.

Microsoft's Surface Pro 128 GB version goes on sale in the country this Tuesday. But along with it, the U.S. tech giant is also releasing an exclusive "Surface China Edition," with an x86 processor like its Pro cousin, the company announced.

Unlike the Surface Pro tablet, the China Edition comes with the standard Windows 8 OS rather than the Professional version. In addition, it only supports the simplified Chinese language. But the tablet also contains Office Home & Student 2013, a product suite Microsoft excluded from its Surface Pro tablet in favor for a one-month trial of Office 365 Home Premium.

The Surface China Edition will be available in 64 GB and 128 GB versions for 6588 yuan (US$1050) and 7388 yuan (US$1178), respectively. The Surface Pro will be priced at 7388 yuan.

Tuesday's launch marks the first time Microsoft has released its Surface Pro tablet outside North America.

The company's previous tablet, the Arm-based Surface RT, also arrived in China back in October, attracting a long line at a Beijing electronics store.

Despite the initial fanfare, Surface RT's sales have been weak in the country, with shipments only reaching 90,000 units in last year's fourth quarter, according to research firm IDC. Microsoft's reliance on using only one local reseller to distribute the tablet has been cited as one reason for the low demand.

For this new launch, however, the U.S. company has expanded its product distribution by signing up eight additional vendors, including e-commerce retailers and other electronic store chains in China. The bigger presence in retail channels will probably help Microsoft increase sales of its Surface Pro tablet, said Kitty Fok, an analyst with IDC.

"If you were to ask if they will become the number one tablet brand in China that's difficult to say," she said. "There's a lot of competition in China, with other vendors that sell at different pricing."

In last year's fourth quarter, Apple had a 62 percent share of China's tablet market, according to IDC. In second place with a 14 percent market share was Lenovo, which has been selling Android tablets in the country for as little as $175.

But given the Surface Pro's features, Microsoft's newest tablet will appeal to enterprise users, Fok said. The Surface China Edition and its inclusion of Office could also attract Chinese consumers wanting a tablet with productivity features.

"To me, the China Edition shows that Microsoft is committed to the Chinese market," she added.

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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