One of the most common questions posed to Microsoft's Surface team Monday was whether the company would buy back used tablets so that customers could upgrade to the newest models set to ship in a month.
The Microsoft developers, engineers and program managers who hosted a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" chat Monday afternoon didn't ignore the buyback questions, but had little to offer as an answer.
For two hours Monday, the Surface team, led by Panos Panay, the executive who heads the group and who earlier in the day introduced the new Surface 2 line to reporters and analysts, took on Reddit readers in a wide-ranging online Q&A.
While Panos and others from Microsoft revealed a few news nuggets, notably that the company will launch Surface tablets early next year that can connect to mobile data networks, one issue that came up time and again was about a first-generation Surface trade-in program.
One of the first questions during the two-hour chat session was on just that topic.
"Any news on a potential trade-in scheme for current Surface RT/Pro owners to get money off the new devices?" asked someone identified as "Exilify."
Others jumped on the idea. "I'd love to shell out some for [Surface Pro 2] if I had a good incentive," said "johnlennin," joining the chorus. "Dealing with eBay and Craigslist would be a pain ... I hope you guys consider it and if so announce it soon."
Some argued that they should be rewarded for being early Surface adopters who jumped on the bandwagon while others dissed the platform.
"Would love to see a trade-in program for all of us first movers for [Microsoft] products (family has Nokia Lumias, etc.)," wrote "hoosiers99" during the AMA. "My Surface RT has been greatly devalued by both price and a new version available in less than a year. Microsoft owes its most loyal buyers and first movers a quality trade-in program."
Such arguments aren't unusual amongst technology-buying consumers, especially when a new product replaces one they recently bought, or a company sharply lowers prices. In 2007, after Apple dropped the price of the original iPhone from $599 to $399, those who had already bought the new smartphone complained loudly, saying that they had been penalized for being first.
Three days later, Apple gave those customers a $100 credit to Apple's online or retail stores, with then-CEO Steve Jobs acknowledging, "Our early customers trusted us, and we must live up to that trust with our actions in moments like these."
Microsoft's reply to the clamor for a Surface trade-in program was written by someone named Brian, who said he worked on the Surface marketing team. "We'll definitely discuss options with the [Microsoft] Store team," Brian said. "We really don't have anything lined up right now though."
Microsoft may have planted the idea in customers' minds: In the last weeks, the Redmond, Wash. company has promoted a used iPad trade-in deal and a broader buyback program that pays for smartphones and tablets running Android, Apple's iPhones and iPads, and BlackBerry smartphones. Neither program, however, accepts used Surface tablets.
The calls for a buyback or trade-in were met with scorn by some during the AMA, and with advice to sell their used Surface hardware on the open market.
"Why would they have a trade in program? Its [sic] technology, it moves on," said "Daylife321" in one example. "Try Craigslist or eBay, it takes 5 minutes to make an Ad and youll [sic] get more $$ for it."
Those critics were in turn dismissed. "They seem to mimic anything else Apple does, completely ignoring the fact that Microsoft doesn't have an established user base yet that enables them to charge premium prices and fees," one AMA participant countered. "So why not copy Apple in this case? Apple pays you less than eBay, but it is no hassle and in exchange for making it easy, Apple gets to profit on their own refurbs."
Apple does have a trade-in program, which it expanded this summer to include in-store iPhone buybacks for credit that can be applied to new purchases.
The electronics "re-commerce" business has exploded in the last several years as consumers and businesses have realized their devices hold value. Companies like Gazelle and NextWorth specialize in buying used smartphones and tablets, especially the former, then reselling them on eBay or in bulk to distributors in developing countries where demand is high but incomes are low.
NextWorth, for example, currently offers $337.67 for a 64GB or 128GB Surface Pro tablet, and $186.68 for a 32GB Surface RT. Meanwhile, Gazelle pays $270 for a 64GB Surface Pro, $399 for a 128GB Surface Pro, and $126 for a 32GB Surface RT.
Microsoft kicked off pre-orders of the new Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets on Tuesday, with prices starting at $449 for the former and $899 for the latter.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.
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