Microsoft has gotten off to a slow start with sales of its Surface RT in mainland China, according to new estimates from IDC that peg the company’s fourth quarter 2012 shipments at just 30,000 units.

The figures, which were first noted by Computerworld, suggest that the initial buzz surrounding the Surface RT launch was limited to early adopters and fans.

Microsoft put substantial resources behind the Surface RT launch in China. It timed the launch of its online store in the country to coincide with preorders for the device. The company partnered with retailer Suning to sell the device at locations around China, and Suning even held midnight launches at some of its locations.

IDC estimates that Microsoft shipped 900,000 Surface RT units globally last quarter, so China represented roughly 3 percent of worldwide shipments. Still, the Surface RT did perform well enough to jump ahead of IDC’s estimates for other Windows tablets, which reached only 11,000 units in the fourth quarter. Analyst Dickie Chang said in an interview that most of those other tablets were sold by Lenovo to commercial users, rather than directly to consumers.

Microsoft will need to pick up the pace if it wants to compete with other tablet platforms. Apple’s iOS remains the clear leader in China’s tablet market, with 62% share, and Android took second with 36%.

Chang acknowledged that Surface RT shipments came in lower than IDC had originally expected. He also noted that it’s “quite possible” that the numbers were even a disappointment to Microsoft, though he did add that he believes Microsoft is playing the long game here and is using the Surface RT as a demo for OEMs to show the potential of the Windows RT operating system.

Microsoft has yet to release its Surface Pro tablet, which launched in the US and Canada earlier this month, in China. It’s possible that consumers in the country will prefer the Windows 8 tablet for their needs, but the device’s high price will be a deterrent to many, since it will cost more than the average PC in China.

It’s worth noting that analysts’ figures are, after all, simply estimates, so Microsoft may have sold more (or less) than what IDC came up with. We’ve reached out to Microsoft for comment. In the meantime, we’ll have to make do with these numbers.

Related: Surface controls 82% of the Windows RT market, giving Microsoft effective monopoly over the platform

Image credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP / Getty Images