It's not a stretch to say Windows RT hasn't been a shining light in Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) software portfolio. And with recent comments from Microsoft, it sounds like the company is finally ready to at least consider killing off the tablet software. Here's why that's a good thing.
RT was confusing from the beginning
Back in October, Microsoft's product marketing manager for Surface, Jack Cowett, said, "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."
Cowett was talking about the launch of the new Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets. But while he admitted the RT name was confusing, he stopped short of saying the operating system itself confused consumers.
But last week, Microsoft executive vice president of devices and studios, Julie Larson-Green, took it once step further. She said in an interview at the UBS Global Tech conference, "I think we didn't differentiate the devices well enough. They looked similar. Using them is similar. It just didn't do everything that you expected Windows to do. So there's been a lot of talk about it should have been a rebranding. We should not have called it Windows."
It's suprising Microsoft failed to see this before it launched the Surface 2 tablets just two months ago, considering that it's been pretty obvious that Window RT hasn't been winner for consumers, tablet makers or Microsoft.
The software has come up short for everyone involved
By almost every account Windows RT hasn't been the mobile OS Microsoft was hoping for. In an interview with CNET last year, IHS iSuppli said the RT tablets had "very high" consumer return rates, possibly due to "a steep learning curve of the OS -- which is not necessarily intuitive."
That was just foreshadowing for the $900 million inventory adjustment Microsoft had to make for unsold Windows RT tablets over the summer.
As if high return rates and having to write down almost $1 billion wasn't enough, Microsoft has lost nearly every original equipment manufacturer that was building or planning to build a Windows RT tablet. Samung, Lenovo, Asus, and Dell have all jumped ship, leaving just Microsoft and its mobile partner-in-crime Nokia selling devices with the OS. The CEO of Asus, Jerry Shen, went so far to say, "It's not only our opinion, the industry sentiment is also that Windows RT has not been successful."
Time to move on
Microsoft's realization that Windows RT hasn't met consumers and OEMs' needs could be a positive turning point for the company. Larson-Green went on to say at the UBS conference that, "We have the Windows Phone OS. We have Windows RT and we have full Windows. We're not going to have three." That statement leaves a wide open mobile future for Microsoft, and hopefully one that doesn't involve RT in its current form. Microsoft could take a page out of Apple's book and create a combined mobile OS that runs on both smartphones and tablets. But Microsoft needs to take the final step and stop hinting at a world without Windows RT and actually make it happen. The company can't progress with its tablet ambitions if it continues to hobble along an OS that's spurned by consumers and OEMs.