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.
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. Microsoft needed to tweak the device to better compete against other ultrabooks, including Apple‘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.
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 Intel 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 ARM Holdings 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.
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.