Microsoft has finally admitted one part of the problem with its Surface RT strategy: Its naming caused "some confusion" among people who didn't understand the difference between the Surface and Surface RT. But there's a much bigger problem Microsoft refuses to face, one that likely dooms the RT platform to irrelevency.
Jack Cowett, product manager for Microsoft Surface, told the publication ARN:
"We think that there was some confusion in the market last year on the difference between Surface RT and Surface Pro. We want to help make it easier for people, and these are two different products designed for two different people."
Microsoft finally admitted what many people, including its hardware partners, have been telling it since the launch of RT -- that Microsoft did a terrible job of explaining to people not just what the Surface RT is, but what RT itself is. Earlier this year, Samsung announced that it had cancelled plans for an RT tablet because people didn't understand what RT was. Mike Abary, Samsung senior vice president in charge of the PC and tablet businesses in the United States, explained why Samsung pulled the plug:
"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."
Samsung isn't alone. Manufacturers are avoiding RT like the plague. Asus had been selling an RT tablet, and then abandoned the platform as well because people simply weren't buying.
Microsoft appears to belive that the issue is that because people are confused by the difference between Surface and Surface RT, that's why they didn't buy RT tablets. And so its answer to the problem seems to be a better marketing campaign to explain that difference.
But there's a much bigger problem with the Surface RT and RT in general: There's no reason for RT to exist. People haven't been buying RT tablets because they're overpriced and underpowered. The lowest-priced Surface 2, which is the next generation of the Surface RT, costs $449. That's only $50 less than the latest iPad and only $25 more than an iPad bought from Walmart.
The Surface, like all Windows RT tablets, can't run desktop apps, or the Windows desktop. That means you're stuck running apps written for RT. But Windows 8 and Windows RT suffers from a serious app gap --- there are far fewer apps for RT than the iPad, and far fewer popular ones. Apps sell tablets. So why buy a tablet that can't run the best apps?
The full-blown Windows 8 Surface Pro 2 makes much more sense than an RT tablet. Because the Surface Pro 2 uses Intel's power-sipping Haswell chip, the Surface Pro 2 gets plenty of life on a battery charge. And because it's a full-blown Windows 8 tablet, it runs desktop apps, and can do double-duty as a Windows ultrabook.
Where does that leave RT? Nowhere. The problem with Surface RT hasn't been with its name. It's been with the platform itself, and that will likely one day die.