You may have heard erroneous reports of Apple's iPod being sold out this holiday season, but one of Microsoft's products has actually made that rarified lists of gotta-have-it products that are suddenly and inexplicably unavailable for purchase. Like the wildly popular Nintendo DS handheld game system, the $150 Microsoft Xbox video game console is going-going-gone. So gone, in fact, that potential customers can't even order a unit for post-Christmas delivery at major electronics e-tailers.
The timing of the Xbox's mysterious disappearance is both puzzling and unexpected. Stacked boxes of rival Nintendo GameCube, a cheaper buy at $99, crowd the aisles at stores like Best Buy. The Xbox's chief competition, the Sony PlayStation 2 (also $150) is almost as hard to find as the Xbox, but consider the chief reason: Sony recently revised its PlayStation 2 as a much smaller player with built-in Ethernet, jumpstarting sales. But unlike the Xbox, it's still possible to order the new PlayStation 2 at many e-tailers, despite the fact that it's also sold out at most brick and mortar stores. Why is the Xbox suddenly so unavailable?
One reason might be that Microsoft prepped the retail channel with a special Xbox holiday 2004 bundle that included two free games, EA NCAA Football 2005 and Top Spin, for the same price that the company normally sells just a bare console. But wouldn't the company keep a number of bare consoles in the channel for when the holiday bundles sold out? Some I spoke with at retail stores this week speculated that Microsoft might be prepping a smaller new Xbox, similar to the recent PlayStation 2 revision, for January. But I've heard nothing about such an update, and Microsoft never responded to my questions about the Xbox shortage yesterday.
Meanwhile, those seeking an Xbox this holiday season are out of luck unless they bought early. What are readily available, however, are game titles and accessories. So if you're the procrastinating type and don't mind the crowds, you're in luck: Aside from some Halo 2 shortages, you should have little trouble finding your favorite Xbox users something special.