Can We Call Windows RT a Flop Yet?


Windows RT was a bold move by Microsoft to make its mark in the world of ARM-powered tablets. But five months after launch, it is looking more and more like an expensive flop.

The German site Heise Online reports (h/t to The Verge) that Samsung has cancelled its plans to roll out the RT-powered ATIV Tab in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, do to weak demand. This is the latest blow in what has been a steady pullback of OEMs from the RT market. In addition to Microsoft’s on Surface RT, there appear to be just three RT tablets available in the U.S.: The Asus VivoTab RT, the Dell XPS 10, and the Lenovo Yoga 11. Hewlett-Packard has announced that it is skipping the RT market and other OEMs seem to have no interest in expanding their product lines.

Tablets running full Windows 8 seem to be doing considerably better, with Microsoft still having difficulty keeping the Suface Pro in stock. The big question is whether these tablets, and the relatively slow sales of traditional Windows 8 PC, give developers enough incentive to create apps specifically for the user interface formerly known as Metro, or whether developers will prefer to try more touch-friendly versions of apps using the traditional Windows UI.

Published by

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

22 thoughts on “Can We Call Windows RT a Flop Yet?”

  1. I believe that Windows RT is in serious trouble. My understanding is that the growth in the number of programs being developed for RT has dramatically slowed.

    “Tablets running full Windows 8 seem to be doing considerably better…”- Steve Wildstrom

    True. But these devices are being sold as notebooks or netbooks, not tablets. Microsoft may continue to earn money with Windows 8, but its primary goal was to move the platform to tablets. It’s still early days, but in this, I think they have failed.

    1. A Windows 8 tablet is a different from both iPad and Android tablets on the one hand and traditional notebooks on the other, though it runs the same software as the latter. The big concern for Microsoft has to be the decline in Metro app development.

  2. I called flop on this before it launched. How did this ever make sense? It is nothing but a subset of Windows Proper.

    ARM processors aren’t magic, you can already buy Intel Atoms that have essentially the same power envelope.

    So you can buy either:

    A) A $500 WinRT ARM table with 8 hour battery life,tablet that WON’T run over one MILLION Windows applications.

    B) A $500 Win8 Atom table with 8 hour battery life,tablet that WILL run over one MILLION Windows applications.

    B does everything A does. But A only does a subset of B. Why would you buy A?

    1. I was very negative too on RT before launch. But like they say in sports, to have to play the games. Looks like this one has now been played.

  3. Actually, I think Surface Pro is done too.

    For simple form factor reasons, let alone software issues. Look at a Macbook Air, the 11″ version is marginal at best. If you want to do “real work” you would get the 13″. How then is a 10″ tablet/laptop hybrid(Surface Pro) expected to be viable in any sort of long term, mainstream way?

    It is simply too small to be doing proper desktop type work, with desktop type software, which is supposed to be its raison d’être.

    Sure there will be some small, marginal, use-cases. But Surface Pro needs to be huge success, hurdle a critical-mass mark, or it will wither and die.
    I call – wither and die.

    1. As the owner of a late 2011, 11″ 128 gig MBA, I would agree with you about the virtues of the 13″ MBA “for real work”. I am pleased with my 11″ MBA but have to admit when I want to do some extensive computer work I turn to my 2009 MBP 15″. I got the 11″ because I was keeping my 15″ MBP with the “high res” screen for home use and the 11″ MBA was so beautifully light.

      Trying to do this on a 10.1″ screen? Not on a regular basis for long periods of time…

  4. The big bully of the 1990s has now become the guy who woke up from a nap, went out for a walk, and finds his old neighborhood has changed so much he’s not sure how to get back home.

    1. “… functionality wise its better than ipad and android tablets.” – Sed P

      Clearly, the vast majority of tablet buyers disagree.

  5. We can’t call it a flop yet, because Microsoft is playing the long game and we can give them 5 years to turn some bad idea into sales.

    However, Apple needs a hit every three months or it’s done, so if they they don’t see lines around the block for every new Smart cover, they are done.

    Yes, Marge, that was sarcasm.

  6. If the Windows Surface RT goes the way of the dodo bird will there still be a reason to dance in the park? I go to the park but don’t have any reason to go to a conference room and cannot afford a Surface Pro.

    Please tell me there is hope for my dancin’ feet!

  7. Steve,
    You wrote, “Tablets running full Windows 8 seem to be doing considerably better, with Microsoft still having difficulty keeping the Suface Pro in stock.”

    Any actual sales numbers? I know some people in your field of expertise have suggested very low initial production numbers as the reason for the “out of stock” issue.
    I was at a Best Buy in Flagstaff AZ yesterday, 3/6/13 and they had both Surface Pro and RT models in stock per the sales associate. I did not “drill down” on this area of inquiry as I was not a buyer.

    1. We don’t have any hard sales data for either version of the Surface, but anecdotally, reception for the Pro has been much better than for the RT.

      Yes, it is very easy to engineer a sellout, even for a dog of a product. A couple of years ago, HP brought out a misbegotten Windows 7 product called the Slate 500. To my astonishment, it quickly sold out. I later learned that the initial production order was 5,000 units because HP wasn’t sure it would sell any. (Why they brought out a product they didn’t think they could sell is a story for another time.)

  8. “Windows RT was a bold move”
    No, it wasn’t.
    The only thing more conservative than Windows RT is Windows 8 Pro.
    Both products have few and feeble merits on their own.
    They are just the latest episode of the same tired story of Microsoft coming out with me-too products that try to lean heavily on their old monopolies of Windows and Office.

    They do very little to advance the state of the art and are catered towards backwards looking enterprise customers that Microsoft hopes would appreciate the ackwardly bolted on backwards compatibility and the scattered remains of familiarity.

    It seems more like the opposite of bold to me.

    1. I agree with this. Win RT would have been a bold move if they would have at _least_ relegated the old Windows via Win 8 to a subsystem, like Apple did with OS 9 in OS X. A bolder move would have just gone straight to RT and left Win 7 to handle legacy hardware and software.

      As I tell artists all the time, be audacious!

  9. I don’t know. I have a Surface RT. The more I use it (and, lately, I find myself using it more and more), the more I like it. It takes a little while to appreciate the “Metro” UI, but it is very useful once it grows on you. It pretty much does what I want to do in a small form factor like that (browse, check email, light editing of Word/other Office files). And, it’s so small and light, and the battery lasts forever (by PC standards).

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