Just a few days after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer cited Samsung as a key partner building Windows RT tablets, Samsung says it won't be releasing a Windows RT tablet in the U.S. because there simply isn't enough demand for it. That raises the question: Is there a future for Windows RT?
Mike Abary, Samsung senior vice president in charge of the PC and tablet businesses in the United States told CNet that the company won't be releasing a Windows RT tablet in the U.S., as it originally had planned.
The problem with RT tablets are two-fold, he explained. First, there's little demand for them. Second, people don't understand what benefits they would get from an RT tablet, which would require an expensive marketing campaign. CNet quotes him as saying:
"There wasn't really a very clear positioning of what Windows RT meant in the marketplace, what it stood for relative to Windows 8, that was being done in an effective manner to the consumer. When we did some tests and studies on how we could go to market with a Windows RT device, we determined there was a lot of heavy lifting we still needed to do to educate the customer on what Windows RT was. And that heavy lifting was going to require pretty heavy investment. When we added those two things up, the investments necessary to educate the consumer on the difference between RT and Windows 8, plus the modest feedback that we got regarding how successful could this be at retail from our retail partners, we decided maybe we ought to wait."
That's a serious indictment of Windows RT, and I think, a justified one as well. A number of reports say that Microsoft's RT-based Surface tablet is selling poorly. The brokerage firm Detwiler Fenton, says Microsoft will sell only 500,000 to 600,000 of them in the December quarter, compared to Microsoft's expectations of one million to two million. And an IDC report concluded that the Surface's $500 selling price will make it very hard for Microsoft to sell many of them. The report said:
"Price points are critical in tablets, and Microsoft and its partners will have a tough time winning a share of consumer wallet with price points starting at $500."
Even Steve Ballmer, a master of hype, has admitted that Surface sales have been modest.
That didn't stop Ballmer from making an unannounced visit to CES to spend time onstage with Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacob to talk up Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 running on Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips. One of the devices he and Jacobs hyped was a Samsung RT tablet. Only a few days later, Samsung said it wouldn't be releasing the tablet in the U.S. for now. It didn't say what its plans were for the rest of the world.
Samsung's criticisms of RT are on target. People who buy RT tablets may not realize that although it looks like Windows 8, it's not really Windows 8, and won't run apps written for Windows 8 unless the apps have been redone for RT. And it won't really run the Windows desktop, either, or Windows desktop apps. Despite those shortcomings, RT tablets are still expensive at $500 or more.
Samsung's decision shows that Windows RT devices may not have much of a future. Designing and releasing RT has been one of Microsoft's key moves to break into the tablet market big-time. It doesn't look as if it will succeed.