How to transform Windows RT from a failure to a success

How to transform Windows RT from a failure to a success

Summary: Windows RT was a massive gamble for Microsoft that didn't pay off. But with a few tweaks here and there, the platform could be great for those looking for a version of Windows that doesn't come with all the associated Windows hassles.


Microsoft may have warehouses packed to the rafters with unsold Windows RT-powered Surface tablets, but there may still be hope for the platform.

(Source: Microsoft)

The reasons why Windows RT, and the Surface RT tablets in particular, failed are many and varied. There was lashings of brand confusion as consumers struggled to figure out the differences between Windows 8 and Windows RT. There was the shock that Windows RT wasn't the Windows that people knew and loved, and instead a body-snatchers style clone couldn't do many of the things that people expected from Windows. There was the lack of compelling apps. Office was bodged to work on the platform, rather than being designed specifically for tablet usage.

There was also stiff competition from the iPad and the myriad of Android-powered tablets flooding the market.

And, to top all that off, the price being asked for the tablets was stratospherically high.

The problems, it seems, came down to the fact that Microsoft didn't understand how the PC hardware business worked, despite being at its core for several decades. Microsoft is used to dealing with software, a product that spends years in development and then sits on shelves for several more years bringing in license fees. Once Microsoft has put the effort into developing products like Windows and Office, it can print off product licenses as and when it needs them.

It's a long term game.

Hardware is different. Cycles are much smaller, and the product's profitable lifespan is scarily short, and beyond that the product becomes a liability. You can't just make one tablet and then clone that in response to demand. Manufactures build them in batches, in the millions. Rumor has it that some 6 million Surface RT tablets were made, which suggests that either Microsoft was staggeringly optimistic, or the OEM that built them wanted to maximize profits and somehow negotiated a deal that was favorable to them. The manufacturer, after all, doesn't care whether they sell well or languish on shelves, they get paid either way.

But all is not lost. I still think that there's room in the market for Windows RT, as long as Microsoft is willing to put the effort in.

  • Rebrand the sucker – Who came up with the name "Windows RT" in the first place? Seriously, guys. I know Microsoft has come up with some real branding stinkers over the years (Kin, Zune, Azure …), but this is probably one of the worst because it took an existing product (Windows) and tacked on a suffix that means nothing. "Windows Tablet" or "Windows Tablet Edition" seem the most logical to me.
  • Firesale the old hardware – Yes, that's going to mean a loss, but the Surface RT tablets are getting older – and more obsolete – with each passing day. Holding onto them isn't going to make them rise in value, unless the accountants at Redmond are planning to wait for them to become antiques.
  • Focus on the benefits of Windows RT – I see this as the familiarity of Windows combined with the robustness of the iPad. The key benefit I see in Windows RT is that it is a no-nonsense platform that can't be trashed by poorly written apps and drivers. It's Windows without the fuss of Windows.
  • Get more apps into the App Store – If third-party developers aren't willing to gamble on the platform, then Microsoft needs to put its own developers at work.
  • Get the price right – Surface tablets don't have to be a premium product. In fact, unless Microsoft want's to go head-to-head against the iPad (something which I don't think Microsoft is in a position to do so right now) then it is better going after the budget to mid-range markets. This means budget to mid-range price tags.
  • Sell. Sell! SELL! – Products don't sell themselves these days (why do you think Apple runs all those ads).

There's still a chance for Windows RT … but not while it is called that, and certainly not at the price Microsoft has been trying to foist it onto consumers for.

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft Surface

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  • Development!

    1. Develop an application that you can use to sandbox and emulate legacy apps. I'm pretty sure it is possible.

    2. $299 is a decent price for the Surface RT without keyboard cover

    3. Dump the desktop mode if you can't manage to figure out #1

    4. Build Metro Office Apps

    5. Lure developers with cash, since they're so eager to spend it.
    Dreyer Smit
    • I don't understand

      How anyone can trust an MS device after they gave the NSA backdoor access.
      • I know why you don't understand

        You are a dummy.
        • How to transform Windows RT from a failure to a success

          Give it to someone you don't like for starters.....maybe to you or Loverock Davidson or Oodbottom3 or
          Over and Out
        • tangent

          Can a dummy recognize s/he's a dummy?
      • Same reason they'd trust Google

        Look up the story about the couple that had a joint anti-terrorism task force go after them because somebody Google'd pressure cookers.
        Michael Alan Goff
        • Story proven false

          I was wrong on that one.
          Michael Alan Goff
    • Agree completely

      Get the price, hardware performance, and native Office - all of my employees would have one. I don't think branding is the issue. It's the lack of price, performance (hardware power), and Office.
  • It came out too soon

    The hardware arrived long before the software. That's why it's not selling. If Windows 8 came out with the Metro environment first and developers had time to develop for it first, then the early adopters would be able to test it while still having legacy software when all else fails. That would have given developers time to come out with some "must have" apps so that when the Metro-only OS came out, there would be a willing user base already established. iPad and Android tablets had that because, while made-for-tablet apps are better on tablets, at least you had the killer phone apps in the meantime, many of which worked just fine on the larger screen.

    MS had to know early adoption would be slow. It's still as potential to be a great product, but without great apps it's no more than an expensive e-reader.
    Michael Kelly
    • It actually came out too late... and the marketed it TOTALLY wrong...

      marketing it as a "Window" machine was a mistake, because when consumer compare it to other windows machines it doesn't stack up.. most importantly it can't run legacy apps = FAIL as "Windows" machine.. they said no compromises when there were all sorts of compromises... they needed to market this thing as an iPad and Android tablet competitor with lots of MS integration... not a new kind of Windows device and they didn't do that... that's why it failed.. it all came down to the marketing being totally wrong...
      • What was wrong

        with Metro? I thought it was good, clean and distinguishing from Windows 8
        • What's wrong with Metro is that Microsoft go sued for using it...

          It's a trademark of a German firm... MS doesn't call Metro, Metro any more, they call it "Modern UI" because of that court case that they lost.. just like they need to change the name of "SkyDrive" now because they lost that case to broadcaster "Sky" as well...

          Metro is a 'no-go'...
      • Marketing and Confusion

        I agree with the general consensus that Windows RT was marketed wrong. I think Microsoft should have gone it alone rather than with OEM creating tables and simply just had the tablet as Microsoft Surface with Surface being the name of the OS rather than Windows RT. That way consumers would see Surface as a mobile OS and not have the expectation that it can run regular Windows software that they are use to running.

        Then have Windows 8 OS have the traditional desktop that consumers are familiar with and marketed it as Windows 8 with Surface OS included. In this manner I would imagine this solution working like Apple's OSX Snow Leopard and higher having the traditional desktop with the "Launch Pad" icon that works similar to iOS UX. So as for Window 8 the UI would have the familiar desktop with a Surface icon (i.e. something different than the new start icon) that take you into the Surface UI (i.e. Metro UI)

        I purchased a Dell XPS 10 with Windows RT. If you look at the consumer reviews for it on the Dell website; you'll see a lot of 1 star reviews from Dec 2012 - Jan 2013 because people returned their tablet because they couldn't install iTunes or whatever legacy application that they are use to running on Windows XP, Vista or 7. That tells me that there were confusion by the customer on what can and can't run on Windows RT.
        • Abosolutely agree!

          The MS Surface OS ... much better than Windows RT
      • MS had a 10 year head start in tablets

        and it still managed to released two pigs - and both of those were 4 years late.
    • it didn't help that the Metro development paradigm sucked

      You have this full powered desktop operating system, and they give you this neutered, sandboxed, .NET-less development paradigm, with only one neat trick (easier async.)
      • Sucked is an understatement

        The Metro development paradigm is an atrocity. The visual designer is an abomination. Going from WinForms to this mess is like stepping back in time. Even xCode and Objective C beats this steaming pile.
  • Face It, There Is No Way To Make Money With Windows RT

    Customers will only buy it when it's priced at a loss. also, the misuse of the "Windows" brand name for a platform which is not truly Windows-compatible has irretrievably tarnished Microsoft's image.
    • You are absolutely correct...

      1) there is no way for MS to make money on this.. this boat has left the doc and Apple and Samsung are in command... to some extent Samsung is in the driving seat now with more power than Google
      2) "Windows" RT is not Windows... so calling it "Windows" anything was a HUGE mistake.. at least not "Windows" in the most important way that consumers think of it.. i.e. runs legacy apps not just a ported version of windows..
      3) they should have just called it MetroTablet or Microsoft Tablet etc... and not associated Windows with it... it's something new... and not included a desktop mode... the name and the desktop that only ran Office Suite just totally confused and disappointed consumer... that's their biggest blunder..
      3) they should have built a Metro version of office.. they should not have even released Window RT unless they were going to do this... a) it shows they are committed to the platform themselves and b) it shows that the platform can actually support feature rich, complex apps.. why should 3rd party devs commit to the platform by producing important apps when MS won't do the same??

      so in summary... likely to late but... a) drop any reference to "Windows" in the name as this just confuses and disappoints users b) produce an Office version of Office c) dump the gimped desktop mode and go all in on metro... if they're not willing to do this, they might as well just shutter development right now and just go with Window 8 tablets with intel new chips it makes these RT tablets kind of useless...
      • Exactly what I've said.

        The name "Windows" has a set of expectations attached to it which were developed over decades of relative user interface consistency. RT met zero of those expectations. Calling it "Windows" was a huge mistake. It is also highly misleading, considering there are no windows in it. It should have been named something completely different and marketed as a totally new tablet operating system. It should never have been put on the desktop, either. Putting it on the desktop made people hate Metro, which killed tablet sales, too. A seamless data sharing connection between the two would have fared better than trying to shoehorn the same OS on vastly different devices with vastly different usage scenarios.

        For the majority of users, Metro is obviously something completely different than Windows. They don't care if it shares the same kernel any more than they care that the Linux kernel is hidden under Android. Being "Windows," they assumed it would work the way they're accustomed to working. It doesn't. Hence, the widespread disappointment.

        Microsoft had developed the best desktop user interface ever created (Windows 7 Aero) over decades of tweaking it. Then, after a very short period, they tossed this highly functional desktop out in favor of a crippled tablet user interface. What kind of morons make a decision like that? Smarter companies understood that you don't need to cripple the user's desktop in order to make your tablets extremely useful. Microsoft obviously learned nothing from the people who created the tablet market. There are so many fails in Microsoft's approach, I can't even begin to count them.

        If they wanted to run Metro apps on a desktop computer so badly, they should have been running in a Metro Window on the desktop, not full screen. Popping back and forth between two vastly different interfaces on two different full screen displays is simply moronic. It makes them look like amateurs who don't know what they're doing.