Why Windows RT will die

It should be no surprise that Microsoft's Windows RT Surface tablet sold only a million units in the fourth quarter, about a half of what analysts expected. Windows RT is an operating system without a future. Here's why it will die.

UBS analyst Brent Thil said that a million Surface tablets sold That's about half of what he expected. Computerworld says that in a note to investors, he said that people were buying the iPad rather than the Surface.

Plenty of other reports have found that the Surface is selling poorly. Even Steve Ballmer admits that Surface sales have been modest.

You can attribute sluggish sales to plenty of factors, such as poor distribution. But there's a deeper reason: Windows RT has no future. It's an operating system so rife with problems, it's hard to imagine it succeeding.

One big issue is confusion about exactly what it is. It looks like a Windows 8 tablet, but it isn't. It can't run Windows 8 apps unless they've been specifically modified to run on Windows RT. It won't run the Desktop or Desktop apps.

Despite that, it sells for $500, as much as an iPad. Because of all this, Samsung has cancelled plans for selling an RT tablet in the U.S. Mike Abary, Samsung senior vice president in charge of the PC and tablet businesses in the United States, explained the decision this way to CNet:

"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."

There's a more serious problems for RT than that, though. Starting later this month, full-blown Windows 8 tablets based on Atom chips will start to ship. As Kevin Tofel of GigaOm writes, Intel Atom-based Windows 8 tablets will cost about the same as RT tablets, run full-blown Windows 8, including the Desktop and Desktop apps, and be more powerful than RT tablets. Why pay the same for a less powerful tablet that does less?

It's not quite true that Atom-based tablets will cost the same as the Surface, at least not at first. The Atom-based Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 will sell for $649, and comes with 64GB of storage. That's almost $150 more than a Surface with 32GB, although it's cheaper than a 64GB Surface, which sells for $699. The least-expensive Dell Latitude 10 Atom-based tablet goes for $579, and it comes with 64GB of storage.

Given the generally equivalent pricing between RT tablets and full-blown Atom-based Windows 8 tablets, who will buy RT? Not many people. And that's why RT tablets will eventually go the way of other ill-fated Microsoft products, including the Kin phone, Clippy, and Microsoft Bob.

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