Microsoft's iPad killer has failed to win over gadget shoppers and PC makers.
The idea of a stripped-down Windows-style tablet, which doesn't actually run Windows, was always going to be a tough sell for Microsoft. Technically Windows RT is part of the Windows family, but Windows RT devices such as the Microsoft Surface only lets you install apps in the touchy-feely Modern UI interface borrowed from Windows 8. Other PC makers also jumped onboard, releasing Windows RT notebooks and tablets to sit alongside their Windows 8 offerings.
You can push aside the tablet-style interface on Windows RT to see the traditional Windows desktop, but once you get there you can't install your own applications. You've got Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office, although Outlook was missing until the recent 8.1 update. You're out of luck if you want to install your own desktop software like iTunes, Picasa or Photoshop. It's quite a rude shock if you didn't appreciate these limitations before you handed over your money (which admittedly would be your own fault for not doing a little research before going shopping).
You might argue that Modern UI is more than enough to satisfy the day-to-day needs of most people, and you'd be right. Just look at Apple's iPad, it's also a stripped-down computing device and people have flocked to it. "If people would only give it a chance they might like Windows RT," I can hear the Microsoft fans cry. But people aren't giving it a chance, even after Microsoft slashed the price.
However you look at it, Windows RT is in trouble. Microsoft significantly overestimated demand for Surface RT tablets and the lack of sales saw it suffer a US$900 million "inventory adjustment". PC makers have also been burned, with Asus abandoning Windows RT devices and HTC reportedly scrapping plans for a Windows RT tablet. Some people are even suing Microsoft for not telling shareholders that Surface RT sales failed to meet expectations. Of course Microsoft says it's committed to sticking with Windows RT and the Surface RT, because throwing good money after bad is apparently what Microsoft does best.
So why aren't people giving Windows RT a chance? You can blame the media and supposedly biased gadget reviewers, but at the end of the day Windows RT is simply not what most people want from Microsoft and Windows. Once you explain to people exactly what Windows RT can and can't do, then show them the price tag, they're simply not interested. Apple's iPad won favour because it broke new ground for consumer-focused tablets and because it was aiming to be an overgrown smartphone rather than a pint-sized computer. Microsoft's efforts to squeeze desktop Windows onto touchscreen devices, like the Surface RT and Ultra-Mobile PCs before it, have generally been a flop because desktop paradigms don't work well on handheld devices.
About now you might cite the Surface's many advantages over the iPad, such as a micro-HDMI video output, full-sized USB2.0 port and micro-SDXC card slot. Such features are certainly useful, but Microsoft needs to look at the reasons why the iPad is popular without them. Extra ports are not enough to redeem a device which is seen by many as fundamentally a poor man's computer. The fact it's priced like a notebook replacement doesn't help.
The software giant had the chance to start afresh in the so-called post-PC era, but it still insisted on cramming a crippled version of Windows 8 onto tablets rather than scaling up the slick Windows Phone operating system. The touch-friendly Modern UI was a step in the right direction, although forcing it on desktop users didn't win Microsoft many friends and generated a lot of resentment. Using the same touchscreen interface on desktop and tablet devices seemed like a step towards unification, but all it did was encourage people to see Windows RT as a glass-half-empty computer. Unifying the smartphone and tablet environments, like iOS and Android, would have been a smarter move. People have been telling Microsoft this for years, but it simply doesn't listen.
Microsoft needs to accept the fact that it's a desktop-centric software giant too reliant on the cash cows of Office and Windows to ever really challenge iOS and Android in the handheld space. Fragmenting the Windows ecosystem with expensive Windows-lite devices achieved nothing except burning cash, burning its hardware partners and reinforcing the idea that Microsoft has more dollars than sense.
There's already talk of the next Surface RT, but changing the lipstick on this pig won't help. Microsoft will struggle to make headway in the tablet space until it addresses the underlying reasons why it was too stubborn and blind to see that Windows RT would be a flop.
Do you think Windows RT is doomed to fail? How can Microsoft turn things around?