Microsoft and Apple last week kicked off promotions that may signal inventory clearing as they prepare their next generations of hardware.
On Friday, Microsoft debuted a deal that hands a free keyboard-cover to buyers of its Surface RT tablet.
The Surface RT offer runs from May 31 to June 30 in the U.S., Canada, and the European countries where Microsoft sells the tablet, including the U.K., Germany, France and the Netherlands. Buyers of either the 32GB or 64GB Surface RT — which in the U.S. list for $499 and $599, respectively — will receive a free Touch Cover or Type Cover, or one of the limited edition Touch Covers.
The Touch Cover usually costs $120, while the Type Cover sells for $130.
Friday's promotion was the second discount Microsoft announced last week: On Wednesday, Microsoft said attendees of TechEd North America 2013, a conference that runs June 3-6 in New Orleans, will be able to purchase a 64GB Surface RT for $99 and a 128GB Surface Pro for $399.
Only TechEd attendees will be eligible for the special prices, but they can buy up to one of each device. The $99 Surface RT comes with a Touch Cover, representing a 83% discount. A 128GB Surface Pro regularly runs $999, putting the TechEd discount at 60%.
Both prices were under Microsoft's cost, according to analysts' estimates of the "bill of materials" (BOM), or the cost of the components in the devices. Last year, Sameer Singh of Tech-Thoughts pegged the Surface RT's BOM at more than $300, and that of the Surface Pro at over $600.
It's unknown whether Microsoft will make the same Surface Pro/Surface RT discount available to attendees of BUILD, the developer's conference slated for June 26-28 in San Francisco. D. Begley, the marketing manager for TechEd, told commenters who asked about BUILD discounts to query the team responsible for the developer gathering.
Although Microsoft has only recently reaffirmed its commitment to Windows RT, the operating system that powers Surface RT, the two offers may hint that the company is drawing down stock prior to introducing new tablets.
New, smaller Surface tablets are expected. In April, Microsoft's then-CFO promised that Microsoft and its OEM partners would launch smaller, less-expensive tablets "in the coming months."
The deals' timing is another clue that Microsoft is trying to get rid of its Surface inventory before launching new models. Its original tablets are coming up on their first anniversary — Microsoft surprised the industry with its own hardware on June 18, 2012 — and the BUILD conference at the end of this month would be a perfect stage for unveiling new tablets.
Microsoft is also expected to follow other OEMs in adopting new Intel processors, those from the "Haswell" architecture, that boast improved graphics performance and better battery life, for its Windows 8 Surface Pro device.
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