Microsoft faces lonely road with Surface RT tablets

Asus and other makers have abandoned the Windows RT tablet franchise

If it wasn't already apparent, next-generation Windows RT tablets are not getting support from any tablet maker other than Microsoft itself.

And for Microsoft, it could be a lonely, long and hard road for future Surface RT tablets, analysts said.

Asus, which makes the VivoTab RT, won't be launching new Windows RT-based tablets running on ARM chips, according to recent comments by Asus Chairman Jonney Shih in an interview with tech news site AllThingsD.

"The result is not very promising," he said, referring to problems selling Microsoft's Surface RT and the VivoTab RT, both of which run Windows RT.

Dell, which makes the XPS 10 Tablet on Windows RT could not be reached for comment on its future plans for the platform. (The XPS 10 is selling for a limited time for $299.) Microsoft did not comment immediately on its plans for Windows RT, either.

Windows RT backfired almost from the start, and the list of missing RT tablets is lengthy. HP and Toshiba both were expected to make Windows RT devices, but never launched them. Samsung in January decided it wouldn't release its Windows RT device, the ATIV tablet, in the U.S. because of lack of demand.

Meanwhile, Acer canceled plans to release a Windows RT tablet, with Acer President Jim Wong saying in May, "there's no value doing the current version of RT." instead, Acer now plans to wait for the next version of RT before deciding whether to release a tablet for it.

And in July, Lenovo stopped Web sales of its Yoga 11 convertible with Windows RT.

Some companies have been more supportive of the beleaguered tablet OS.

Qualcomm, which makes Snapdragon processors for the Dell XPS 10 and the Samsung ATIV tablets, expressed support for Windows RT as recently as May. And this month, Nvidia, maker of the Tegra 3 processor used in Surface RT and the Yoga 11, reiterated its support for Windows RT, after saying in May that its next-generation Tegra 4 chips would be used in multiple Windows RT next-generation tablets.

As of now, it appears that only Microsoft will have a next-generation Windows RT tablet that uses an Nvidia chip.

Even if current Windows RT makers such as Dell remain silent about their plans for the platform, analysts insisted that there aren't any OEMs (Original Equipment Makers) that want to build a Windows RT tablet.

"Windows RT is challenged," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "OEM's are not interested in Windows RT."

It would take "massive incentives" to OEM's to keep them interested in making Windows RT tablets, he said, adding that only Microsoft is expected to produce a next-generation Windows RT 8.1 tablet. It would be manufactured for Microsoft by Pegatron, which makes the current Surface RT.

In fact, Microsoft may be the only OEM shipping Windows RT for "a few years," he said. "They are sticking to their guns, as it's a long-term play."

Windows RT "continues to be a very hard sell to consumers," said Tom Mainelli, an analyst at IDC. "The upcoming 8.1 update and resulting name change is likely to confuse people even more, since they're calling it Windows RT 8.1."

IDC said only 200,000 Surface RT tablets and other Windows RT tablets shipped in the first quarter of 2013. Second quarter numbers are expected from IDC later this week.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said Microsoft should "abandon Surface RT and simply focus on Surface Pro and Windows 8 tablets, but make them less expensive and upgrade the features to be more competitive."

"With several companies now abandoning the RT platform, I see no momentum in the market to keep it going long term," Gold added.

Microsoft could choose to keep Surface RT alive indefinitely, but that would rob resources and funds from other projects that have a better chance at success, he added.

This article, Microsoft faces lonely road with Surface RT tablets, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

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