The last couple of weeks have been pretty much void of any news about Microsoft’s Surface product line. There haven’t been any great new apps or games, and we haven’t heard any announcements or sales figures from Microsoft.
That’s not really good for business and although the Windows brand is guaranteed to survive for a few more years, Windows RT can certainly find itself without hardware or customers if it continues to under deliver and continues to fail to make itself distinct in the marketplace.
Microsoft’s goal ever since the launch of Windows Phone 7, seems to be centered on providing an intuitive, consistent and simple user interface, regardless of the device you’re using. In theory, that’s a great idea. Who doesn’t want to pick up any device and instantly feel comfortable and productive? The problem ultimately is not in the interface, or the design, but with the overall delivery. Windows RT is different than Windows 8 in only one way : Windows RT is built on processing architecture that is meant for ARM chips which use less power and aren’t natively capable of running the applications that run on your current Windows 7 or earlier operating system. That’s the only difference that matters anyway. The thing about new software (or anything new, really) is that in order for it to be successful, it needs to be better in some large way than other software, or previous iterations in order to be valuable. And the fact that Windows RT is otherwise identical to Windows 8 doesn’t really help. Microsoft’s Media Player, the Zune, was a technically sound product, but failed to distinguish itself and ultimately failed.
Windows 7 is better than Vista because it wasn’t plagued with compatibility issues and provided great new features, the iPhone 4 is better than the iPhone 3GS because of its spectacular “Retina” display, Google Maps is better than iOS Apple Maps because it doesn’t suck. What makes Windows RT better than Windows 8?
To be fair, Windows RT actually became available at the same time as Windows 8, but the point is, in order for Windows RT to be successful, it has to provide at least one distinct advantage to survive.
Advantage : Windows RT can run on an ARM processor. ARM processors consume less power than traditional x86 processors.
So, is this one advantage enough? No, it’s not. Why? Because consuming less power isn’t valuable at all to the end user. A couple of years ago, using ARM chips might have translated to better battery life or a lower price point to end users. This really isn’t the case anymore. There are excellent Windows 8 hybrids priced below the Surface which are able to secure a solid 7 hours of battery life such as the ASUS Vivo Tab Smart.
“But Lane, isn’t Windows RT more powerful than the operating systems powering Android and Apple tablets?”
I’m not a software engineer so I can’t tell you the answer to that question, and there are plenty of comparisons to those operating systems available, but what I can say is that without great applications, it doesn’t matter. And without a growing user base, these applications are unlikely to be developed.
Windows RT does have one thing going for it, namely, cash. Yes, Microsoft has a lot of cash and they are interested in RT’s survival. There’s a lot Microsoft could do to help their brainchild survive. I’ll talk about that in part two: How To Save Windows RT and the Microsoft Surface.