The big news floating around the Web today is that Microsoft has announced the release date of its long-awaited Surface Pro tablet — February 9, just outside the 'about 90 days' window the company said it would wait after launching the Surface RT.
That's great news for anyone who was holding off on a tablet or Ultrabook purchase to wait for the Pro — it's only a little more than a fortnight away.
What's not so great is that the big announcement is only relevant for the US and Canada. No release date information has been given for Australia or any of the other 8, soon to be 20, countries that the Surface RT is already sold in.
With what is likely to be an extremely limited amount of stock to go around, it makes sense for Microsoft to limit availability and slowly increase the number of markets it has to allocate shipments to. But the frustration at not having any information to go off any more, not even the 'about 90 days' we've all been waiting for, is palpable.
There will be an announcement from Microsoft Australia in due course, but going off past experiences with staggered tech product launches it’ll likely be a month, or more, until we hear anything.
For a particular group of enterprising tech-heads, though, the announcement is doubly frustrating. Over the past year, we've become big fans of two particular things — US mail-forwarding services like Shipito, and DNS-forwarding services like UnoDNS.
Neither service is illegal to use — the Government removed parallel import restrictions in 2000 on any product that’s not a car or a book, and with the vagaries of Internet legislation there’s nothing specifically stopping you from using a DNS forwarder to pretend you’re in the US. The biggest concern is getting warranty support on your shiny new piece of technology, should something go wrong.
Put these two services together, and it’s theoretically possible to hop onto the Microsoft US website for the Surface Pro on launch day, buy a Surface Pro tablet, and have it sent to your Australian postal address via a mail-forwarding service with a US distribution centre.
It sounds good in theory, but a sticking point is the Government’s $1000 GST threshold. What this means is that if you’ve got a package being sent internationally, coming through Customs, it has to be under $1000 in overall value — otherwise Customs will impose a 10 per-cent GST charge on the item’s value plus postage and insurance, after a Customs processing fee of 5 per-cent of the value of the item.
Here’s an example: if you’ve got an item that’s $1000 outright, and you pay $150 for shipping and insurance, Customs will charge you $50 duty (5 per-cent of the $1000 product value) and then charge you another $120 (as 10 per-cent of the overall cost of $1000+$150+$50). Your $1000 tablet just became $1370.
Coincidentally enough, what’s the price of the Surface Pro tablet in the United States? US$899 for the 64GB model, and US$999 for the 128GB model. You might be able to get the 64GB Surface Pro into Australia for under $1000, if your mail-forwarding service lets you choose the cheapest possible international delivery service and insurance.
The more desirable 128GB model is entirely out of the question. Add on the nearly-mandatory US$120 Touch cover or US$130 Type Cover, or the newly-announced US$70 Wedge Mouse, and you’re well over the $1000 threshold, attracting hundreds of dollars of Customs fees and irksome delays. And there’s the cost of shipping the Surface Pro within the US to your mail-forwarding service, and any of the invisible sales tax that many US states charge. After all this, there’s the dubious question of shipping the Surface Pro’s lithium-ion battery internationally to consider, with any extra costs that might bring.
So, while the possibility of jumping the Australian queue to order a Surface Pro from the US may seem initially tempting, it quickly gets too expensive to consider. Australians are stuck waiting for a local announcement, then a local release.
We don’t know what local prices are going to be, but seeing the Surface RT’s minimal price increase locally compared to the US, we’re optimistic. We’d wager that the 64GB base model will be AU$999, and the 128GB model will be $1099 — much cheaper than paying the premium to get a US-bought Surface Pro delivered here.
Of course, if you’ve got a willing friend living or travelling in the US who’s able to pick a Surface Pro up at one of Microsoft’s retail kiosks and take it down to the post office, it’s still a possibility...
Update: Microsoft Australia has released a statement mirroring the US's announcement — On February 9th, Australia will be getting the newly-announced 64GB Surface RT tablet package, which doesn't include the previously-bundled Touch Cover. Three limited-edition Touch Covers and the Wedge Mouse will also be available. No news on local availability for the Surface Pro, though.