Windows 8 Is Here, but Where Are the Tablets?

Now's not the best time to go Windows 8 tablet hunting.

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With the arrival of Windows 8 at the end of October, I thought the weekend would be a great time to go out and play with some tablets. So on Saturday, I dragged my wife along to our nearest Best Buy and Micro Center, figuring there would be lots of new devices to try.

I was wrong. The Micro Center near Cincinnati only had one Windows tablet on display, Asus’ Vivo Tab RT. It was set up at a small table near the center of the store’s main aisle, next to an Asus Zenbook laptop and an HP TouchSmart all in one. The clerk confirmed that the store had no other Windows tablets — but plenty of traditional laptops — in stock. (Strangely, he also said tablets running Windows 8, as opposed to Windows RT, wouldn’t hit the market until next year, which isn’t true.)

Next stop, Best Buy, where the situation wasn’t much better. The store’s tablet and laptop section had an endcap for Lenovo’s 13-in. IdeaPad Yoga — a laptop that flips around into a tablet — but nothing else. A clerk told me that the store also had Asus’ Vivo Tab RT, but didn’t have a display for it yet, so it was locked away. He offered to find it and let me try it if I wanted. As with Micro Center, Best Buy had lots of laptops running Windows 8, but no other tablets or convertibles.

On Monday, I also tried Staples, whose website said the Samsung ATIV Smart PC and Lenovo ThinkPad Twist were available in stores only. All I could find was the Twist, but it was out of stock.

Just to make sure I wasn’t crazy, I consulted my list of Windows 8 tablets and hybrids from a couple weeks ago. Nine of them have ship dates of Oct. 26, including the Yoga, Vivo Tab RT and Microsoft’s Surface with Windows RT. That leaves six hybrids that should be available by now, but are difficult or impossible to find in stores: Samsung’s ATIV Smart PC and Smart PC Pro, Acer’s Iconia W700, Toshiba’s Satellite U925T, Sony’s Vaio Duo 11 and the ThinkPad Twist.

Even online ordering is spotty for some of these Windows 8 launch tablets. Office Depot has a listing for Samsung’s Smart PC, but when you click on it, it says the item isn’t available for purchase at this time. B&H lists a Nov. 15 ship date for the same tablet and a Nov. 8 ship date for Acer’s Iconia W700. Toshiba’s Satellite U925t has a four- to five-week shipping delay on its website, though it is in stock at Amazon and Newegg. Sony’s Vaio Duo 11 is only available online through the Microsoft Store website.

To be clear, I’m not talking about basic laptops with touch screens. Those are easier to find, but they’re not as interesting as hybrid devices — ones with detachable screens or conversion mechanisms that hide their keyboards from view. Hybrids, I think, best represent what Windows 8 is about, so it was strange to see such a poor showing at retail stores, where people can get their hands on the hardware before buying.

What gives? An Acer representative told me the Iconia W700 was available in some outlets, but it sold out and should be available soon at “a wider range of retailers.” A Samsung representative said the company’s products were only available in “select stores” on Oct. 26. (That may explain why the ATIV Smart PC wasn’t at my local Staples.) A Toshiba representative said the U925T will hit Fry’s, Micro Center, CompUSA and New York retailers (like B&H) within the next couple of weeks. Best Buy’s only response was to point out that the Vivo Tab RT is now available in addition to the Yoga.

My guess as to what’s happening: PC makers are approaching these new types of hardware with caution and releasing limited supplies, instead of producing heaps of first-generation hardware that may or may not sell. Meanwhile, retailers are picking and choosing a small handful of hybrids instead of stocking them all and seeing what sticks. They may also be slowly figuring out how to market these types of devices; right now, stores like Best Buy and Staples have separate sections for laptops and tablets, but Windows 8 hybrids could qualify as both. It’s also worth noting that some devices, like Dell’s XPS 12 and HP’s Envy X2, aren’t due to launch until later this month.

I imagine things will gather steam once we hit Black Friday. For now, it’s not the best time to go Windows 8–tablet hunting.

MORE: The Big Launch List of Windows 8 Tablets and Hybrids