Windows RT: DOA to almost everybody

Windows RT: DOA to almost everybody

Summary: Microsoft designed Windows RT to get its newest OS on tablets using the popular ARM processor. It did this well, but in the process crippled it, making it a no-go for the consumer.

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No doubt Microsoft knew there would be some market confusion when it released the version of Windows 8 designed for tablets using the ARM processor. This processor is inside nearly every tablet not running a version of Windows, so Microsoft needed to get Windows running on it to be competitive. The engineers in Redmond did that, but they crippled it in a way that kills its usefulness for most consumers.

My colleague Larry Seltzer of ZDNet thinks that while it may not resuscitate Windows RT in the market, the probable appearance of new devices running Windows RT for the holiday season might kick-start sales. He may very well be correct that this scenario could get devices with Windows RT flying off the shelves, but I don't think that's likely.

Microsoft has two problems with Windows RT that hobble it when it comes to getting big sales. One of those problems is of its own making, and it's stuck with it. The other is more insidious, as it's a perception thing that will never go away.

It's about the apps, indirectly

The first reality that kills off Windows RT is the inability of the user to install any Windows app that hasn't been released specifically for the Metro side of Windows 8. This has been blasted all over the web since details of Windows RT first appeared, so I won't rehash it yet again. This is a serious problem that keeps prospective buyers away in droves.

The Metro lockdown of Windows RT is the primary reason that tablets running it will not be considered for the enterprise, nor by the tech-savvy consumer. There is simply no way to justify buying a tablet with Windows RT inside over a full Windows 8 solution. The RT models may be cheaper, but not cheap enough to force reliance on Metro apps.

That's a serious situation, as the enterprise/power user market segment is a natural fit for Windows tablets. Devices running full Windows 8 will probably sell OK to them, but Windows RT will not be considered. The abysmal sales of Microsoft's own Surface RT bears witness to this.

Mainstream consumers, the group that tablets running Windows RT is aimed squarely at, aren't buying them either, and never will. There's that confusion thing that intrudes on the buying process. RT is Windows 8, sort of, and prospective buyers no doubt get turned off by the restriction of installing apps.

The regular consumer might not realize that's a generic problem, but they do recognize the specific one. They'll ask the sales rep if they can install iTunes on the nice Windows RT tablet they are considering purchasing. Or perhaps they ask about running Firefox or Chrome, their favorite browser. Maybe the app they inquire about running is an app for their kids.

Whatever the app they need to run might be, if the sales rep is knowledgeable, they'll give the proper answer that no, your app cannot be installed on Windows RT. Or worse, and this is supposedly happening more than we think, the rep tells them incorrectly that sure, that app can be installed on this Windows RT tablet. Of course, in the latter case, that Windows RT tablet is going to come right back to the store.

Don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying that devices with Windows RT won't appeal to anybody. I know folks who are quite happy with them. They are in the minority by a wide margin, however, and that's not going to change.

It's not real Windows

The second problem Microsoft faces with Windows RT is one of perception. To the average consumer, those who buy things like tablets but know little about the technology, Windows RT is not a real thing. Unlike every version of Windows that's come before it, there are no boxes of Windows RT in retail stores. There is no upgrading their existing hardware to Windows RT. The only way to get RT is to buy a shiny new tablet (or other device) that has it preinstalled and ready to go.

Those of us familiar with how this stuff works understand that's the way it is, but the takeaway for consumers is that Windows RT is not like Windows as they know it. It's not available to them as an OS by itself; it only exists on devices they buy. Microsoft doesn't name it in media ad campaigns, it's just Windows. That's not enough to sound alarms that it's different from "real" Windows. When the app restriction is mentioned in the store that kills the deal if there is any remaining doubt about the Windows RT tablet under consideration.

Good hardware, not enough Metro

Even though OEMs have been reluctant to build Windows RT tablets, Microsoft's own Surface RT leads the pack. It's good hardware done right, but the shortcomings of Windows RT compared to "full" Windows 8 have kept buyers away. That's not going to change unless Microsoft addresses both the actual shortcoming of RT and the perceived one.

Price alone is probably not enough to get buyers to get a Windows RT tablet, but it's a start. That's one reason the Surface RT is now a lot cheaper than when it was introduced. The question is how low must pricing go to get buyers to look past the shortcomings of RT.

Related stories:

Topics: Mobility, Tablets, Windows 8

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93 comments
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  • Good article - CORRECT "It's about the apps, indirectly"

    Apple and Android have a simple and mature software app ecosystem with mega thousands of easily available apps. Apple and Android have a tremendous advantage!!!
    rkd7777
    • Android has the advantage that you can get a 49 Android tablet

      throw it away if it breaks and get another one. People are willing to pay cheap to buy cheap, and Surface is far too good hardware/software wise to be able to be sold that cheap.

      And Apple has the advantage of a mature ecosystem, so it's a tough, but far from impossible nut to crack.
      William Farrel
      • Re: Android has the advantage

        Yep... but, what is the advantage Microsoft has?
        Price is not it, neither is apps ecosystem, neither is polish... this platform still needs a lot of work and customers have already seen the cheap Android and the polished iOS devices. They have even seen the expensive, well made and feature packed high end Android tablets.

        Not imposible to crack, true.
        danbi
        • RT is the future for the masses.

          For the masses, RT is much better then Atom based tablets. Most of poeple do not need to install PC apps on tablets. They just browse, check e-mails, work with office. And RT is perfect for that. RT devices are thinner, cheaper, and with better battery life. And the most important part is, that it is safer for normal users. They do not install any crap on those machines which will make them slow after a year!!! I think this is the biggest benefit of RT. I would recommend it to any person who is not IT geek and just need a device to consume the net.
          RT is the best os, that MS has made, but poeple will need time to find out. Specially, when "IT gurus" will spread that it is already dead. :)
          Dijkstra()
          • This is the irony of the criticism ...

            Tablet buyers buy tablets for doing things they don't need a notebook computer to do. So it makes no sense to criticize a tablet for not being able to run PC applications.

            The Surface RT is for those who want to be able to share data between their PC and their tablet.

            The Surface Pro is for professionals who want to REPLACE their notebook PC with a tablet.

            I was not impressed with my iPad because it was too hard to do use my Windows resources from the iPad - or to even share files.

            It was the same with the Kindle Fire. My Surface RT solves all those problems for me.
            M Wagner
          • Here we go again

            Brilliant riposte! Not from these parts? (... only, contribution complete in thought and construction - not to mention structure - ONE IDEA ONE PARAGRAPH)

            Surprised the 'not making any sense' charge hasn't been floated yet :-)

            Setting all that aside, was a bit startled by the comparison closely followed by the query, '... and the difference with the Chrome book being?'

            :-) Oh well, i'll bugger off now.

            PS Not DOA to almost everybody but ... something to do with intellect. We innovate, the locals dismiss, Chinese 'steal' the idea, develop from it - lend us some more money - POTUS blamed for daring to increase education.
            michaelsqi@...
          • for the massses???

            most people use a tablet for two things- to surf the web(people uses google chrome or firefox) and for multimedia(people use vlc iTunes and WINDOWS media player) NONE of the programs listed above are available in windows RT...... so tell me again how windows rt is good for the masses????? as for checking e-mails..... they didn't even give us outlook...... the only thing it has is the MS Office.....
            Pradeep Pillai
      • Android cheap hardware

        Windows RT cheap OS

        The market has already chosen which type of cheapness they'll accept.
        hrlngrv 
      • Re: Android has the advantage that you can get a 49 Android tablet

        Android runs on the hyper-efficicient Linux kernel, hence its ability to perform well on the cheapest hardware. Even the latest version of Android can still run on a single core; how come Windows can't?
        ldo17
        • Have you ever used...

          a single core android phone? Android performs poorly on quad core, let alone single core.
          kstap
          • Re: Have you ever used... a single core android phone?

            Yes, I own one.
            ldo17
          • Yes. And your point?

            I use or have used them all.
            A single core I will admit is not the smoothest brick in the road.
            I have a quad core (HTC One) and an iPhone 5. The HTC is the smoothest running phone I have used to date of any OS.
            Yes I have tried a WinPhone - didn't work for me.
            rhonin
        • Yeah Right...

          You sure used it on a single core phone.
          It is an abysmally bad user experience. And let's not talk about battery life here.
          TheCyberKnight
      • Cheap...

        Android is only $15 less of an OS than Windows RT. There's no reason to pick an OS that has a 1% malware rate for $15 less. And yes, both the $15 and $30 goes to Microsoft.
        CharlesClarke
    • So missed the point

      It's not about a mature app system. It is about expectations.
      The average user / consumer expects it to act like Windows; the Windows that has become ingrained into our lives.
      This was bandied about when RT was launched; RT being a big misconception and a big miss by MS. I don't like saying "I told you so" but ......
      Xbox tablet would have been a better option.
      rhonin
    • I bought 1000 Surface RT's in one purchase.

      For $25 by the pallet full, from the scrap yard.

      All brand new too, fresh in plastic transport wrapping, direct from the Microsoft warehouse.
      Wroger Wroger
      • You were overcharged.

        Nuff said.
        Mah
  • I am still...

    ...thrilled with my 64GB Surface RT and noted considerable increase in productivity. This will continue to my tablet till Haswell version of Window 8 tablet comes out. As long as you know how to use remote desk, you will be fine with this device and Office is important part of yirb delay activities.

    However, what may have killed Windows RT was and still is the price, compounded by strange commercials. Imagine if Microsoft started this campaign with their latest commercial about comparing RT vs IPad.
    Wonder.man
    • I am still... ...thrilled ?

      Your only half way through the treatment, trust me you will get better.
      Alan Smithie
    • Pray tell

      What methodology did you use to measure "increased productivity"?

      Did you also undertake methodologically sound comparable studies with similar devices using different operating systems?
      Wakemewhentrollsgone