Microsoft recently revealed some sorry Surface tablet numbers. Its latest quarterly filing disclosed earnings of $853 million (£560 million) in revenue from Surface tablets, but it wrote down $900 million (£590 million) because too many were built and the unwanted surplus units are now stuck in a warehouse. Indeed, Asus is also dropping Windows RT.
All of which begs the question – why did Microsoft produce a Surface RT in the first place? It was quite a feat for Microsoft to port Windows 8 onto the ARM chip. In fact, the first Surface tablets released were the ARM-based units and by all accounts they have better battery life and are quite slick and usable. If any company other than Microsoft released the things, they would have been a huge success.
But any product Microsoft rolls out must be fully compatible with all the other Windows products or else what's the point? The Surface RT was more of an exercise in futility. It can't process run-of-the-mill Windows programs at all.
Microsoft tried a similar stunt during the Windows NT era when it ported Windows to the Power PC chip, the Alpha chip, and the MIPS processor. Microsoft can do this but nobody outside of the confines of the Redmond compound actually wants these products. They invariably fail.
It's possible Microsoft conducts these sorts of experiments every so often just to make sure it isn't missing out on some secret underground change in the public's habits. Thus we have the Surface RT experiment.
Whether Microsoft will refresh the machine in its next round of upgrades remains to be seen. I would expect one more upgrade, then death. The company does not like to bail out at the drop of a hat unless the public is storming the gates with pitchforks and flaming torches. So it will give it an upgrade and see what happens, just in case.
But make no mistake, the Surface RT is not a failure. It's not a machine I would like because it's not optimised as a laptop, but it is as usable as any other tablet. There are more apps and support for the iPad, but I can see people buying the Surface for its versatility.
And we must remember Microsoft is opening stores everywhere in the US, and rolling out its stores-within-a-store concept at Best Buys across the States. The Surface is a showpiece for these operations, as the Xbox One will be.
I don't consider the Surface numbers and the write-downs to be an actual failure. It just amounts to Microsoft making the little mistakes it always makes. The blunders won't force the company out of hardware any time soon. After all, the company took forever to make money on the Xbox.