Implementation and apps the key to Surface RT tablets

Implementation and apps the key to Surface RT tablets

Summary: The Microsoft Surface RT tablet is an exciting entrant to the mobile space, with so much riding on how well Windows RT meshes with the tablet hardware. The public reaction to Surface RT will ride on the implementation of the OS and the apps.

MSFT Surface tablet

Microsoft surprised me with the unveiling of the Surface tablets. While many seem to be anxious for the Surface Pro version running Intel-based Windows 8, the RT version running on real tablet hardware has me stoked. I am anxious to see how well the Windows RT version of Windows 8 works on the Surface RT hardware. 

How well the Surface RT tablet is received by the public will ride in large part on implementation and apps. The implementation of Windows 8 for the ARM-based hardware must be as good out of the box as competing mobile platforms. It must work seamlessly and not feel like Windows slapped on a tablet like in versions past.


The apps will be just as important to get buyers stoked about the Surface RT, and not only an impressive selection. How well the apps are written for the tablet hardware and form will be as key as the selection of apps. Apps must feel like they were developed especially for the touch tablet, and not like non-touch apps dropped on the tablet.

It may only be logical to state that the implementation of Windows 8 RT is critical to the success of the Surface RT tablet, but it is worth being upfront about it. Microsoft wants to make a serious run in the tablet space and Windows RT must be written for the genre through and through.

Microsoft has added functionality to past versions of Windows to handle tablets, but it always felt like an afterthought so they could say they did it. The user experience clearly made users realize the touch tablet features were just slapped on top of regular Windows. That cannot be the experience for buyers of the Surface RT tablet.

Windows RT must be able to run the Surface RT tablet on its own. By that I mean that even though Microsoft is offering keyboard covers that look really useful, the user must be able to use the Surface sans keyboard without compromise. The keyboard should be a welcome addition for the user, not required to get the full benefit of Windows RT. This cannot be overstated, it is vital to provide the proper tablet user experience with the Surface RT.

This is a real concern I have with the Surface RT. It will be so easy for Microsoft to rely on the tablet keyboard, perhaps even pushing it as an advantage over the competition. That would be a mistake as tablet buyers demand the ability to use just the tablet without compromise. The keyboard handling must be an additional benefit, not a requirement to get full use out of the tablet.

If Microsoft gets the implementation of Windows RT right on the Surface RT half the battle is done. Only half, as apps are just as important to the reception of the tablet. 

It's not just the selection of apps that is critical, even though that's what most people usually think when you say apps are important. Having the apps that buyers want will be important at launch, but how the apps are handled just as much so.

By that I mean that Surface RT apps, which we used to call Metro apps, need to be easy to buy and install. Microsoft seems to understand that with the online store, but it goes beyond that.

Buyers will expect Surface RT apps to work like the competition. Buy once and run on multiple devices. That's the way it works on iOS and Android and tablet buyers will expect the same from Microsoft. That's where it will get complicated since the Windows platform also covers "full" Windows 8 apps. If the term "bulk licensing" comes into play it will be a bust.

Developers and Microsoft may not expect buyers to want to install a $5 tablet app on their other Windows systems, but I can guarantee they will. That's the price of branding the Surface RT as part of the Windows family rather than a separate mobile platform. Owners will want to buy an app once and use it everywhere in the Windows ecosystem.

Perhaps that's what Microsoft intends, but that can't be popular with developers used to selling single licenses for Windows apps. Surface RT tablet buyers are going to expect, even demand, that apps work the same as on the other mobile platforms. If it doesn't there will be a lot of confused and unhappy customers.

Developers of Windows RT apps need to resist the urge to make their apps do lots of things at the expense of being easy to use. I've said it before but it bears repeating -- the best mobile apps are the ones that do one thing better than other apps. Even though Windows RT is "Windows" the apps it will run are indeed mobile apps. Make them function-specific and good at that function. Apps designed with the "everything and the kitchen sink" approach will not be popular with tablet users.

Microsoft has shaken up the mobile world with the Surface tablets, and it is an exciting time in the company's history. The Surface tablets, computers bearing Microsoft's own brand, are a bold move that look to redefine the PC space. While competing in the hardware world requires hitting point on design and pricing, in this case the implementation and apps will be just as critical for success.

Topics: Tablets, Microsoft, Mobile OS

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  • Apps are important, but...

    I think Microsoft is selling the Surface tablets (and all Windows 8 tablets) as a productivity tool, more than a consumption device (like most tablets). Clearly, Metro apps are more important to ARM tablets than Intel tablets, since Intel tablets can fall back on millions of traditional desktop applications; however, since all of the research shows that people use tablets primarily to surf the web & watch videos, the real need for half a million apps is kind of oversold. In short, everything anyone needs to do those fundamental things are built into the tablets (whether they're iPads, Android, or Windows). What sets Windows RT apart is that it will run Office. In other words, a Windows tablet is really a laptop in tablet form, while iPads & Android tablets are really smart phones in tablet form.

    I think the real question is whether Microsoft can finesse this difference enough to grab a sizable chunk of the market. My best guess is that the Windows tablets (both the Surfaces & those sold by Microsoft's OEMs) will quickly push Android tablets to the side (much like Windows netbooks pushed Linux netbooks aside), and then the battle will heat up between Microsoft & Apple.
  • No Clue..

    " How well the apps are written for the tablet hardware and form will be as key as the selection of apps. Apps must feel like they were developed especially for the touch tablet, and not like non-touch apps dropped on the tablet. "

    Well, James Kendrick has no clue about Win RT or its 'Metro Interface'. For your FYI , its basically an 'overkill' of tablet interface... wait for it...and you will love it.
  • You can already see how WindowsRT will function on a Surface without a

    keyboard. Install the RP on any other tablet and try it. As for apps at launch, no this isn't important at all. The surface out of the box will meet the needs of 90% of consumers. That's why ipad apps at launch weren't at all important to ipad success. The Windows app store will grow much faster than the ipad and android app stores did, just like the WP one did. And the apps will be great mobile apps, better than their equivalents on ios/android, just like the WP apps are much better than the equivalent iphone apps. You don't need to worry about the os or apps or like yesterdays ridiculous post, price. You will get more for your money from both the hardware and ecosystem with a WindowsRT tablet. I will be getting an arm one first and then also getting a second generation intel one once airmont come out though. Whether either oen will be a surface or some other oem offering depends on the competions ability to show they can easily produce a better tablet than the surface the way MS wants them to. Yes the intel ones will also be "real" tablet hw. They will be just as thin, light, and have as long or longer battery life. They will also have significantly better performance for the apps that actually do local processing.
    Johnny Vegas
  • Touch-First Apps Will Be Fine...

    There is nothing to fear on the application front.

    The Windows Store experience is easy enough for novice to use, the user experience is based on few easy to learn gestures and applications will offer a distinctive appearance. It will only get better as developers will continue to correctly integrate the platform concepts.

    The only place where Windows 8 on tablets will hurt is in the BYOD scenario. Microsoft continuously refused to change how Wi-Fi proxy settings are set and adopt the Windows Phone model. Instead, they decided to stick with the IE bound settings rather than use the per-connection settings. In the end, roaming from home to work (when a proxy is used) remains a nightmare.

    This is an unfortunate decision since the BYOD trend is growing significantly (as more people own tablets). Windows 8 will remain the only retarded platform is this industry sector. Inconvenient I say.
  • Conway's Law States That ...

    ... any engineering endeavour reflects the organizational structure that produced it.

    When I look at Windows 8/RT, I see a system carefully restricted to avoid any threat to Microsoft's existing Windows desktop and Office empires. Instead of the needs of the users coming first, it is the needs of Microsoft that have come first.

    So why should the users buy something that was not designed with them in mind?
  • I have to agree. By all measure, the "Surface RT" ought to be ...

    ... an "iPad Killer" because it will come in at competitive prices (at least compared to the iPad) and it will offer a level of compatibility not available to the iPad owner who is also a Windows user.

    However, whether this pans out or not remains to be seen.

    I hope it does as I have yet to have a tablet experience I would call sufficient for my needs. I like Windows 8 and can easily envision times when I might never leave the "Metro" interface and other times where I need to spend all of my time on the Windows 8 desktop.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, I started out on IBM mainframes but I have been a Windows professional for as long as there has been a Windows product. (I evaluated Windows 1.0 but was unimpressed until I put Windows 2.11 on my desktop. I never looked back. That was 1987. Three years after my (most dissatisfying) first look at the 512K "Fat Mac". Along the way, I was also a UNIX Systems Specialist.

    I personally own an iPad (first generation), and a first-generation Kindle Fire. I also own a BlackBerry but I am not sure what they should tell you. (It'll probably be my last.)

    If Microsoft executes the introduction of the "Surface RT" successfully, MS should give Apple a run for its money. If not, Microsoft's future in the Consumer space could slip away.

    If as successfully as it could be, it is even within the realm of possibility that ARM OEMs could abandon Android for a more lucrative Windows RT market.
    M Wagner