Can price cuts and going small save Windows RT?

Microsoft is in the midst of an all-out blitz to save Windows RT, using price cuts and promoting smaller-sized devices. Will that be enough to revive the floundering Windows 8 offshoot, or will Windows RT go the way of Microsoft Bob?

Bloomberg reports that Microsoft is cutting the price of Windows RT for small tablets, hoping to boost demand for an operating system that few people want. Bloomberg had no details about the size of the price cut. Microsoft is also said to be readying an 8-inch RT-based Surface that may sell for between $249 and $299.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is also rolling out price promotions to try and get people to buy the Windows RT-based Surface. From May 31 to June 30, those who buy the Surface will get a free Touch Cover or Type Cover. That amounts to a $120 or $130 price reduction, because Touch Cover costs $120, and the Type Cover costs $130.

This is the second price cut for RT in a week. Those who attend TechEd North America 2013 will be able to buy 64GB Surface RT for $99. That's a whopping discount -- 83% worth, and about $200 less than the actual cost of materials, according to research done by Sameer Singh of Tech-Thoughts. Only those who attend TechEd can get the discounts. Microsoft doesn't expect big sales from the promotion. Instead, it's hoping to seed the market for developers to write apps for RT, and to get influencers to talk up the devices.

Can Microsoft's price cuts and other promotions save RT? To put it simply: No. People don't want a halfway version of Windows, and device manufacturers don't want to spend money on building a device that won't sell.

Just today, for example, Acer Chairman J.T. Wang told the Wall Street Journal that his company is underwhelmed with RT, and has no current plans to build an RT tablet. Wang told the Journal that Windows RT "won't be so influential anymore." My guess is that something must have been lost in his internal translation, because it was never influential in the first place. He added:

"We would like to be realistic. We have not decided if we want to launch that [Windows RT], to start mass production."

He's not alone. HTC killed its plans to build an RT-based tablet, and Hewelett-Packard has no plans to build one. Samsung has said it's not going to sell RT tablets in the U.S.

Reports show just how dismal RT sales have been. The most recent report from IDC found that in the past quarter, the RT-based Surface had only 0.4% of all tablet sales, with only 200,000 shipped.

Analysts expect Microsoft to eventually abandon RT. Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, told Computerworld:

"I've been concerned about Windows RT from the beginning. I don't see a long-term viability for Windows RT as a value-driven strategy."

Full-powered Windows tablets, meanwhile, have sold better that one would have expected. With no help from RT, Windows tablets made up 7.5% of the market in the first quarter of 2013, according to Strategic Analytics.

That's because the devices don't force you into compromises like Windows RT, which doesn't run desktop apps. I've been using a Windows 8-based Surface Pro for the last several weeks and have been quite happy with its mix of power and portability, and its ability to turn into a full-blown traditional computer by slapping on a keyboard.

Smaller, less-costly full-blown Windows 8 tablets are on the way. Yesterday Acer announced an 8-inch Windows 8 tablet with the 32GB version with a $379 list price -- more than $200 less than the 32GB version of the RT-based Surface, although of course the Surface has a larger screen. Likely the price of the Acer tablet will be even lower on Web sites when it launches. That's less expensive than the Windows RT-based Surface, although of course the Surface has a larger screen.

Making things more difficult for RT is that Windows 8 tablets based on Intel's low-power Haswell chip will launch this fall. They'll use less power than current Windows 8 tablets.

The question is, why should you settle for a halfway version of Windows 8 by buying an RT tablet, when for not much more money -- or possibly the same price -- you can get the real thing?

The answer is, you shouldn't settle. And that's why eventually Windows RT will fail.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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