Why Microsoft hasn’t made a good enough case for Surface RT

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Microsoft took enough Surface with Windows RT pre-orders to sell out of one model — the lowest priced model is currently back-ordered for three weeks — but is it a hit? It’s far too early to say, given that few have had hands-on time with the product of course. And I can’t say I’m impressed by a “pre-order sellout” for a brand new product and platform without knowing how many units were produced. Still, it’s likely a good day for Microsoft as there is clearly a market for Surface tablets.

However, I’m starting to wonder who fits in that market.

I thought long and hard about this, mainly because I often buy new gadgets on the first day they are available. Sometimes I even import them early from other countries at a premium price to get my gadget fix. But after thinking it through, I opted not to buy a Surface RT tablet at this point. Why? Because Microsoft hasn’t demonstrated why I should.

Maybe the message is lost on me and not you

Let me step back a second by saying this logic definitely applies to me; it may or may not apply to you. And I’m not suggesting it’s a bad product by any means; that would be premature and irresponsible. I’m simply looking at the message that Microsoft is providing and the timing of the product in today’s market as it applies to competitors and Microsoft’s future. Also, one disclosure: I earned the Microsoft MVP award in Tablet PCs — from Microsoft itself — for several years, starting in 2006. I’ve been a Microsoft Tablet PC fan in the past and had high hopes for the platform, but times have changed.

So what is the message about Windows RT and this new tablet? On the surface — no pun intended — the message I hear is that Microsoft has a consumer-friendly touchscreen tablet that’s priced in the same range as other great devices; namely the iPad. I see some potential issues here. First is the cost. As I noted earlier this week because I don’t see a huge value-add for Windows, I would have liked to see the device priced about $50 to $100 less. I’d pay the same or a premium if there was a reason to. A majority of readers agreed on the cost, at least those who participated in our poll: 58.8 percent said the product was priced too high.

Note that I called this a consumer-friendly tablet. Why? Because in three months, Microsoft will have the Surface Pro running Windows 8, not the Windows RT version on the currently available slate. Surface Pro is more likely to attract enterprises and such because it’s a full-powered machine with no Windows software limitations. And that gets me back to Windows RT; specifically why I don’t think Microsoft has made a good enough case for widespread success.

It’s tough to start a new mobile platform now

Essentially, Windows RT is a brand new mobile platform and IT will face the same challenges as any other new mobile platform. Think of BlackBerry 10, which arrives early next year. Look back at Palm’s webOS system that never built up momentum. Microsoft’s own Windows Phone platform faces the same struggle, even now. For the moment, iOS and Android are the platforms that dominate the mobile space due to widespread adoption and thriving ecosystems with vast amounts of apps, media and services. Remember that Windows RT doesn’t run legacy Windows apps — even though some Microsoft Store reps aren’t explaining this well. If it did, this would be less of a problem.

lots of tabletsComing back to my own decision-making process then, what has Microsoft done to convince me to drop iOS or Android tablets for a Surface RT tablet? Not much, at least not yet. I’ll want to hear more about the app story, just as I did for Android; I didn’t adopt Google’s platform for months after launch until I saw the app market start to thrive, for example. Microsoft Office is one differentiator, of course, but if that’s coming to iOS and Android next year, that advantage quickly goes away for most. And to be honest, Office isn’t enough for me personally to make a switch. Come to think of it, nothing Microsoft has said yet is enough for me to make the move.

Again, I’m not trying to condemn a product I haven’t used; I’m simply looking at the message being sent in comparison to what’s been available for two or more years. And I’ll be attending a Microsoft press event next week where I should get some hands-on time with a Surface RT tablet. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but I’ll surely be asking one key question to Microsoft reps there: What’s the compelling reason for me — or anyone else, for that matter — to choose a Surface RT tablet over a competing iOS or Android slate?

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