Does a $100 Surface 2 price cut mean the end of Windows RT? Not necessarily

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Credit: Kevin C. Tofel/Gigaom

I can’t figure out if Microsoft is really serious about Windows RT or not. In May the company reportedly pulled a Surface Mini tablet that was expected to run RT. It debuted a new Surface Pro model, which is easily the best Surface yet, at that time but didn’t update the Surface 2. Now it’s discounting the latest model of its Windows RT tablet by $100 for a limited time, leading some to speculate that RT, a version of Windows for chips used in phones and tablets, could be joining the tablet dead pool.

Surface Pro 2

Only Microsoft knows what the strategic vision is here, of course. But I’m not sold on the idea that Windows RT is dead quite yet or that this is the beginnings of a fire sale.

Bear in mind that the Surface Pro 3 tablet was updated quickly compared to the Surface Pro 2. [company]Microsoft[/company] needed to tweak the device to better compete against other ultrabooks, including [company]Apple[/company]’s MacBook Air. By comparison, the Surface 2 looks to be on a more traditional upgrade cycle and likely has less profit margin built in. If Microsoft was going to invest in an early device refresh, it made more sense to do so on the Pro line of hardware.

Windows consistency

Photo by Kevin Tofel/Gigaom

In terms of software, you can’t overlook one of the main themes of Microsoft’s Build developer event this past April: Universal apps will let developers create software that can run on any Microsoft device, be it a phone, tablet or PC. This approach can help overcome one of the bigger issues with Windows RT — the lack of certain applications. Granted, this will take time but it’s a thought that can help keep RT alive a bit longer.

I’m also not sure Microsoft wants to be beholden to [company]Intel[/company] forever. Yes, the WinTel alliance has helped Windows become the most used operating system on traditional computers. But it’s done little if anything for Microsoft on more mobile devices. Microsoft’s Windows RT effort was a chance to break out from the influence that Intel wields by using alternative processor technology based on IP from [company]ARM Holdings[/company] and its partners. That’s why I think Intel quickly brought Intel Atom into tablets and hybrids, even if it has to spend millions to subsidize the chips.

Transformer Book T100 Back

I’m not suggesting Microsoft has a winner on its hands with the Surface 2 and Windows RT. Far from it. But I’m not sure the RT strategy has been fully played out yet, either. I’m expecting at least one more try for Windows RT before Microsoft fully scales Windows Phone up on a tablet, which it has already taken the first steps toward doing.

4 Comments

Luscious

Windows RT is the best “tablet OS” out there. For MS to scale it down by stripping the desktop or replacing it with Windows Phone is a backward step.

You can argue that not everybody needs full Windows on a tablet, but look at what’s become of the Surface Pro lineup. It’s expensive, but you get a device that works as a slate for content consumption, a notebook for content creation, and with it’s docking station can replace your desktop to do heavy-lifting:

http://lgponthemove.blogspot.com/2014/06/lifestyles-of-mobile-road-warrior.html

Don’t forget as well, we are talking about an operating system that has native 4-way keyboard, mouse, pen and touch input on a device that costs just $249 if we go with the original 32GB Surface RT. You won’t find another OS on a tablet, ARM or otherwise, that can match that.

Kevin C. Tofel

I’m sure for the way you work, everything you said applies and is accurate. The market is clearly stating otherwise based on device sales though.

Jeff Kibuule

Scaling up Windows Phone or scaling down Windows RT completely misses the point of “Threshold”, they will all literally become the same core OS, same app binaries, same APIs, same runtime. The UI/UX that a user sees will differ from one device class to the next, but the heavy investment and price to get the core of Windows running on ARM has already been paid. As such, any suggestion that Microsoft will “do away with Windows RT” means that person doesn’t understand how things will work in the future.

What remains to be seen is messaging and branding, since the distinction between Windows, Windows Phone, Windows RT, and even the Xbox Core OS will make no sense at a technical level, but the marketing team needs to make that info easily digestible for the public to understand. I actually wouldn’t be too surprised if Microsoft brings back “Windows Mobile” as weird as that may sound, to describe phone and no-desktop tablet versions of its OS.

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