When Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) revealed its new versions of the Surface tablets last month, it dropped the RT name from the lineup. Then last week, the company confessed the RT designation was confusing to consumers. But despite the change and the admission, has Microsoft really made the Surface brand any less confusing?
Confusing in name only
Here's what Microsoft's product marketing manager for Surface, Jack Cowett, told Arnnett.com: "We think that there was some confusion in the market last year on the difference between Surface RT and Surface Pro. We want to help make it easier for people, and these are two different products designed for two different people."
The important thing to point out is that Windows RT isn't gone, the marketing has just changed. Microsoft's Surface 2 will go on sale on Oct. 22 running the Windows RT operating system, while the Surface Pro 2 will use Windows 8.1. While consumers will easily see the distinction between the two names, the OS differences will likely still cause confusion.
Windows RT has been a pretty big thorn in Microsoft's side, yet the company has refused to move away from the platform. Over the summer Microsoft had to make a $900 million inventory adjustment for RT tablets -- meaning the company built way more Surface RTs than it could sell -- and, most recently, all original-equipment manufacturers who had been manufacturing a Windows RT tablet have stopped. This leaves Microsoft as the only OEM producing tablets running the RT operating system. Not a great sign for the Windows maker.
A clearer path
Microsoft could have gone one step further for the consumer and dropped the RT operating system and used a less-powerful processor in the Surface 2 that would allow for good battery life yet still supply enough processing power. Just a few months ago a Lenovo executive said there's no need for Windows RT because the latest Intel chips provide the right balance of processing power and battery life.
The distinction between the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2 should have been more like the difference between a MacBook Air and a MacBook Pro. Both run the same operating system, but the Pro has more processing power, a better graphics card, different battery, and other upgrades for a higher price. Instead, Microsoft chose a path that will continually confound users and confuse their Surface purchasing decisions. Microsoft admits the RT name was a big mistake, now it just needs to realize the operating system is no different.
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