Despite a massive marketing campaign for the Microsoft Surface, RT-based tablets have been a bust, with a measly 0.4% market share. So says the latest report from IDC. How long will Microsoft keep propping up this ill-begotten operating system?
The latest report about tablet sales from IDC is rosy for Android and Apple. Overall tablet sales are booming, with total shipments for the first quarter of 2013 of 49.2 million units, a stunning increase of 142.4% compared to a year previous.
Android was the big winner, with 27.8 million tablets shipped, for a 56.5% market share, a whopping increase of 247.5% compared to a year previous. iOS was impressive as well, with 19.5 million tablets shipped, and 39.6% market share, an increase of 65.3%.
Windows tablets still have minimal market share, at 1.6 million units and 3.3% market share, an increase of 700% compared to a year previous.
But even that low number dwarfs Windows RT sales. For the quarter, RT tablets made up 0.4% of all tablet sales, with 200,000 shipped.
The horrid numbers for RT makes one ask a few simple questions: Why did Microsoft create Windows RT in the first place? How long will the company keep supporting it?
As to why Microsoft built Windows RT, it's likely because of the blunder it made in the basic design decision it made for Windows 8 -- creating a hybrid operating system to run on both traditional computers and on tablets. Much has been made about how that has harmed PC sales because of the confusing interface. But less has been written about how that has hurt tablet sales as well.
Forcing tablets to run full-blown Windows means that based on current technology, they generally need powerful chips that consume more power than most tablets. That makes it hard to build tablets that are as light with as much battery life as competing iOS and Android tablets.
That's where Windows RT comes in. Because it's not full-blown Windows, it can run on ARM chips that require less power than chips that power full-blown Windows tablets. That means lighter tablets with longer battery life.
But RT confuses consumers. It looks like Windows 8, but isn't Windows 8, and won't run desktop applications. People simply don't understand it. So as the IDC numbers show, they're staying away.
Manufacturer such as Samsung, Asus, and Acer are staying away as well. Mike Abary, Samsung senior vice president in charge of the PC and tablet businesses in the United States has harsh things to say about what Microsoft has done with RT:
"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."
And Alex Gauna, an analyst at JMP Securities LLC told Bloomberg about the RT-based Surface sales:
"It's pretty clear that things were bad entering the year, and at least for the moment they're getting worse. The path to a successful Surface, in the same way that they were successful with Xbox, is not very clear to me right now."
Even Microsoft executives seem confused at times about Windows RT. Michael Angiulo, corporate vice president, Windows Planning, Hardware & PC Ecosystem, defended RT in an interview with CNet, but at times confused Windows RT with Windows 8. When he took on a main criticism of RT, that because it's not full-blown Windows 8 it can't run Desktop applications, he said this:
"People are talking about legacy desktop software not running, but they don't think about the customer benefit of only running modern apps. The only apps that you install from the Windows store are the kind, that as a customer, you can manage your rights to.
"Let's say you drop that PC in a pool. Well, you get a new one and then you just redownload [the apps]. That's the kind of model people are used to with a phone or tablet today. I can maintain all the apps in the [Microsoft] store and reset with a single switch."So, on Windows RT, the user experience stays consistent over time. That's a big benefit. And as the number of apps grow in the store, that value promise only gets stronger."
The PC he's talking about dropping into a pool would run Windows 8, not Windows RT. If Microsoft officials can't keep the operating systems straight, how can consumers be expected to?
Windows tablets clearly have a future. That 3.3% in the IDC survey might be an understatement, because a Strategy Analytics report found that for the first quarter of 2013, Windows tablets had 7.5% of the market.
As for Windows RT, it doesn't have much of a present, and likely not a future. Dismal sales and confused messaging may well doom it.