Microsoft Surface sales: At most 750,000, with "very high" return rates. That's why Windows RT will die.

Microsoft's Windows RT Surface tablet is off to an exceedingly poor start, with sales of at most 750,000, and very high rates of return. So says iSuppli. Worse yet, the reason for the high return rates spell trouble not only for Windows RT, but for Windows 8 itself.

Rhoda Alexander, an analyst at iSuppli, told CNet that an estimated 1.25 million Surface tablets were sold into the sales channel, but of those, only 55 to 60 percent were then actually sold to consumers. That would mean sales of between 680,000 and 750,000 devices.

Her numbers are roughly in line with other estimates. UBS analyst Brent Thil has said that about a million tablets were sold in the fourth quarter. He said that people were forgoing the Surface and instead buying iPads.

Low sales are only one part of the Surface's problem. The potentially bigger issues is what Alexander calls "very high" return rates. As to why the return rates are so high, she had this to say:

"It seems to be linked in a lot of cases to a steep learning curve of the [Windows 8] OS -- which is not necessarily intuitive."

That's very bad news for Microsoft. It spells trouble not just for Surface, but for the entire line of RT devices. And it's even a bigger potential issue for Windows 8. Windows 8 was designed more for tablets than PCs, and features dual (and duelling) interfaces, the tablet-based one and the traditional desktop one. If people can't even figure out how to use it on an RT tablet, which features only the tablet-based interface, how will they figure out how to use it on a traditional PC?

The Surface problem is one more instance of the trouble that Windows RT is in. Alexander told CNet that there's a "distinct lack of interest" among hardware makers to build RT devices.

She echoes what many people have been saying. Acer so far has decided not to build a Windows RT tablet. And Samsung has cancelled plans to sell an RT tablet in the U.S.

As for Microsoft, Alexander told CNet that because of Surface's poor sales, Microsoft is probably not manufacturing them for now, and is instead waiting to sell off unsold inventory.

This just one more example of why I think Windows RT will die. At $500 and up, RT tablets are expensive, but are less useful than a full-blown Windows 8 tablet. And it's not clear that many people will buy an RT tablet over a similarly priced, or even slightly more expensive iPad.

As the recent sales figures show, the Surface and other Windows RT tablets simply don't have a future.

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