Last week, Microsoft published an embarrassing video that tried to compare the Surface RT with Apple’s latest iPad. While this video sorely missed the mark (there’s no mention of the iPad’s superior display or the better selection of apps), the more significant point is that this video tries to get users to adopt an ecosystem that’s just a few shaky steps away from death.
As we reported earlier today, Asus has announced that it is pulling out of the Windows RT market. This follows the withdrawal of Samsung, HP, Lenovo, and HTC, leaving Dell as the sole third-party Windows RT OEM. “It’s not only our opinion, the industry sentiment is also that Windows RT has not been successful,” Asus CEO Jerry Shen told the Wall Street Journal. The Taiwanese company will now only produce Windows 8 devices based on Intel’s x86 chips, which can run the complete library of Windows apps and games.
Back to the video – which you can watch below, incidentally. In May, Microsoft got into trouble for misrepresenting the size of the Asus VivoTab. On its iPad versus Windows comparison site, Microsoft claimed that the 10.6in Asus VivoTab has a display that’s 36 per cent larger than the 9.7in iPad. In reality, due to differing aspect ratios – 4:3 on the iPad, 16:9 on Windows 8 devices – the iPad’s display is actually 3.5 per cent larger than the VivoTab.
The site has since been updated to just a numerical comparison (9.7in vs 10.6in), but it’s still unfairly leaning on the fact that display sizes are always listed as the diagonal length. Microsoft uses the same crutch in the video, while also opting to not point out that the iPad’s display resolution is about twice that of the Surface RT.
The video also plays up the Surface RT’s snap-in keyboard, failing to mention that the iPad has a slew of keyboards that can be connected via Bluetooth – or the fact that the iPad has access to a much larger and higher quality selection of apps. But hey, it is a Microsoft promotional video – it makes sense to play to the Surface’s strengths, such as multitasking and integrated Office.
But still, what good are those strengths if the entire Windows RT ecosystem consists of a couple of tablets from Microsoft and Dell, along with a shoddy selection of apps? You could argue that Apple has done just fine with a handful of iOS devices, but it’s not really a comparable situation. Microsoft needs to bring something truly compelling to the tablet market if it wants to wrest market share away from Apple, Google, Amazon, and Samsung.
Hardware-wise, at least, Microsoft has shown that it’s capable of producing desirable and usable products – but it needs to follow that up with exceptional value for money, a strong software ecosystem, or both. At its launch price of $500 in the US (£399 over here) without the keyboard – the same price as the iPad! – the Surface RT never really made sense.
Still, all signs point to Microsoft releasing another bunch of Surface tablets alongside Windows 8.1 in October. There will be another Surface RT (powered by Nvidia), and most likely a smaller Surface that will compete with the iPad mini, Nexus 7, and Kindle Fire HD.
If Microsoft can price these devices appropriately – around $400 (£260) and $200 (£130, although UK prices will be more than a direct conversion, as ever) respectively – then there’s a chance that consumers will give Windows RT another chance. With Windows 8.1, Microsoft is making a lot of changes to ensure that consumers understand how to use the new Start screen and Metro-style apps, which will certainly help. The number of apps in the Windows Store continues to rise, too.
Microsoft and Windows RT don’t exist in a vacuum, though. The new Surface devices will have to compete with new tablets from every other big player, including the highly anticipated iPad 5 and iPad mini with Retina display. It’s going to be an uphill struggle to keep Windows RT alive – a fight that I don’t think Microsoft will win.