Two Sides of the Consumer Coin to Windows RT

Patrick Moorhead / April 17th, 2012

Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled via a blog the different Windows 8 editions and comparing the different features and functionalities.  There are three versions, Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows RT.  One of the biggest changes in Windows 8 versus previous editions is the support for the ARM architecture with NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments, and the new naming reflects it.  The Windows 8 on ARM, or WOA for short, gets its own name, called “Windows RT”.  I believe that this naming cuts both ways, some positive and some challenging for the ARM camp, but can be mitigated with marketing spend and education.

Windows RT (ARM) versus Windows 8 (X86)

Windows RT and Windows 8 are very similar but in other ways very different, and in some ways reflect Windows RT’s shedding of legacy…. but not completely.  The Microsoft blog had a lengthy line listing of differences, but here are the ones I feel are the most significant to the general, non-geeky consumer.

The following reflects relevant typical features Windows 8 provides over Windows RT:

  • Installation of X86 desktop software
  • Windows Media Player

The following reflects relevant typical consumer features Windows RT provides over Windows 8:

  • Pre-installed Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote
  • Device encryption

Again, this isn’t the complete list and I urge you to check out the long listing, but these are the features most relevant to the non-geeky consumer.

What isn’t Addressed

What I would have like to seen discussed at length and in detail was support for hardware peripherals.   I will use a personal example to illustrate this.   Last week, I bought for $149 a new HP Photosmart 7510 printer, scanner and fax machine.  Will I am confident I will be able to do a basic print with a Windows RT machine, will I be able to use the advanced printer features and be able to scan and fax?  We won’t know these details until closer to launch, but this needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Next, I would have also liked to see some specifics on battery life and any specific height restrictions for Windows RT tablets.  If these devices are intended to be better than an iPad, they will need some experiential consistency to provide consumers with confidence, unlike Android.  As I address below, this wasn’t overt, but a little covert.

The Plusses with what Microsoft Disclosed with Windows RT

There are some positive items for the ARM camp that came from Microsoft’s blog post that covered Windows RT.  Windows RT does support the primary secondary tablet-based needs a general consumer would desire.  In the detailed blog posts, Windows RT supports many features.   This comes to light specifically when you put yourself in the shoes of the general consumer, who doesn’t need features like Group Policy, Domain Join, and Remote Desktop Host.  Also,  I don’t see the absence of Storage Spaces or Windows Media Player as major issues for different reasons.  Storage Spaces is very geeky and I do not believe the typical consumer would do much with it.  I believe Windows RT will have many, many methods of playing video as we see on the iPad and Android tablets, so the absence of Windows media Player isn’t a killer, specifically for tablets.

Windows RT also contains Office, specifically Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote which sells for $99 today. Finally, while details are sketchy, Windows RT supports complete device encryption.  I can only speculate that all data, storage and memory operations are encrypted.  This can potentially leveraged with the consumer, but it’s not something that has kept the iPad from selling.

A final,  important note, is the consistent experience I expect Windows RT to deliver.  By definition, all Windows RT systems will be lightweight with impressive battery life. While this doesn’t come out as clearly in the blog post, I do read between the lines and see where this is headed.  I believe Microsoft wants to deliver the most consistency with Windows RT and leave the experience variability to Windows 8.

There will be challenges, though.

The Risks with what Microsoft Disclosed with Windows RT

While there are positives in what Microsoft disclosed on Windows RT, there are risks and potential downsides, too.  First of all and primarily is the absence of the “8”.  Regardless of how much Microsoft may attempt to downplay the “8”, consumers fixate on generational modifiers to add value to something.  Consumers do this because it makes it easy for them.  When a consumer walks into a store and sees Windows 8 and Windows RT, I expect them to ask about the difference.  What will the answer be from the Best Buy “blue shirt”?  Without a tremendous amount of training on “RT” I would expect them to say, “RT has MS Office, but won’t run older programs.  8 runs all your old programs but doesn’t come with Office.” With that said, the street price adder for Office isn’t public knowledge, but I know that it does add at least $50 to the street price.  This is a discount to $99, but then again, I don’t miss not having Office on my iPad.

As I discussed above, Microsoft needs to disclose more on backward hardware compatibility.  Every day that ensues without a more definitive statement, Microsoft draws in the skeptics.  What wasn’t discussed in the industry 6 months ago is being discussed now.  Finally, how can the lack of X86 desktop software be turned into a positive?  The basic consumer, if offered something more in their minds for the same price, will always choose more, unless they see a corresponding behavior to give up something.  Apple has done a fine job with this on the iPad.  When the iPad first launched, many focused on what it didn’t have, namely USB ports, SD cards, or the ability to print.  The iPad can print in limited fashion, still has no USB or SD card slot and is still selling great.  Windows RT needs a distinct value proposition related to Windows 8 but different too.

What Needs to Be Done Next

If I were in the ARM camp, I would plead with Microsoft to reconsider the naming.  Even adding an “8” to the naming to render “Windows 8 RT” would at least recognize it’s in the same family.  Without it, Windows RT looks like part of the Windows family, but not “new Windows” table. This can be overcome by spend on a unique value proposition.  This distinct value proposition may be that all RT units are thin and light weight and provide a consistent experience, something that Windows 8 cannot guarantee.  The ecosystem then would need to fill “RT” with value and meaning which will be expensive. Finally, the Windows RT ecosystem needs to start better communicating about peripheral compatibility, as every day passes, the broader ecosystem gets more nervous.  With six months to go, there’s a whole lot of work to do, and a lot more in the Windows RT camp than the Windows 8 camp.

 

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick Moorhead was ranked the #1 technology industry analyst by Apollo Research for the U.S. and EMEA in May, 2013.. He is President and Principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a high tech analyst firm focused on the ecosystem intersections of the phone, tablet, PC, TV, datacenter and cloud. Moorhead departed AMD in 2011 where he served as Corporate Vice President and Corporate Fellow in the strategy group. There, he developed long-term strategies for mobile computing devices and personal computers. In his 11 years at AMD he also led product management, business planning, product marketing, regional marketing, channel marketing, and corporate marketing. Moorhead worked at Compaq Computer Corp. during their run to the #1 market share leader position in personal computers. Moorhead also served as an executive at AltaVista E-commerce during their peak and pioneered cost per click e-commerce models.
  • Defendor

    “Even adding an “8″ to the naming to render “Windows 8 RT” would at least recognize it’s in the same family”

    I disagree completely. IMO they should completely remove “Windows” from the naming, as this seems likely to lead to confusion about it running your old “Windows” software. Which it won’t.

    A new Windows OS, that doesn’t run your old Windows software?? None of it? That seems like it is going to cause massive confusion, frustration and returns.

    Windows 8, should have been “Window 8” with a “with Metro” tag added.

    The ARM version should just be called “Metro” (maybe “With MS Office” Tag). Because that is really what it is.

    I can see many folks going to Bestbuy and walking out with a “Windows” tablet that won’t run their Windows software. This doesn’t seem like a recipe for a smooth launch.

    • benbajarin

      I totally agree. I have been thinking just Metro on the ARM versions would have been the best option.

      I also agree that not only should Windows have been dropped from the naming but that Microsoft should have moved entirely away from the Windows brand and started with something new.

      • Rich

        Microsoft seems to be stuck on the Windows brand, presumably thinking it has too much “equity” to let it go. They may come to regret that choice, but then they appear to be uncertain how to deal with today’s market.

    • “IMO they should completely remove “Windows” from the naming…”-Defendor

      Agreed. Microsoft probably thinks that extending the “Windows” name to all of their products is an advantage. That hasn’t proven to be the case with Windows Phone 7.

      Further, I think that Microsoft desperately wants consumers to believe that Windows RT is just another variant of Windows when, in fact, it is a completely different OS which is wholly incompatible with their existing Windows OS.

      Apple divided their OS between tablets (iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad) and vertical screens (notebooks and desktops). Microsoft can afford no such division. Because all of their users are on the desktop, they NEED us to believe that tablets are just another form of desktop. And that Windows runs on all devices, be they desktops or tablets.

      Steve Jobs’ great insight was that the tablet needed a touch user interface and that this required an operating system optimized for touch. Microsoft has recognized this reality and created a touch specific operating system for ARM tablets. However, like a little child, Microsoft thinks that if they don’t say something out loud then it won’t be real. This is why they refuse to acknowledge that Windows Phone 7 has nothing to do with Windows and that Windows RT has nothing to do with Windows either. They think that so long as they call it Windows, it will be Windows…even though it’s entirely incompatible with the traditional version of Windows.

  • Rich

    I’m sorry Patrick, but it sounds like you and Microsoft have overanalyzed and over-intellectualized this to the point that the public isn’t going to buy it.

  • mhikl

    When the iPad came out there were no expectations and what you got was what you got and it set the bar for all that follows. MicroSoft Tablet does not have this luxury. It is, as well, setting up expectations with all its open ended announcements and will suffer, as Apple did, for what it doesn’t originally come equipped.

    The other side of this difficult coin is that MS has had the advantage of a target at which to aim and excel. It could be offering an amazing choice to the mix. This edge of perfect balance would be if MS Tablet can meet or surpass the functionality and ease of use the consumer has come to know and love about its predecessor, the very successful iPad. The time of know is approaching very quickly.

    I agree, too, Defender. With such a fundamental change should come a name change. Sounds like an Apple move; something simple, something elegant.

    • “… MS has had the advantage of a target at which to aim and excel.”-mhikl

      Once a product is entrenched, merely being better than it is not enough. You need to be much, much better to persuade consumers to leave the existing product for the new. Time after time after time Microsoft’s position has been merely make a better copy of the original. They succeeded with Internet Explorer by giving the product away for free and by bundling it with their operating system. They failed with the Zune and Windows Phone 7. One might say that they succeeded with Xbox, but they went 5 billion in the hole with Xbox before they started to make a profit and they were assisted by the fact that their major competitors seemed bent on self-destruction.

      I’m sure that Windows 8 is a very fine OS, just and Windows Phone 7 is a very fine OS. But “very fine” won’t cut it. The iPad has a two year head start and it’s a premium product produced by the world’s largest, most profitable and fastest growing large tech. Apple is no Netscape that Microsoft is going to brush aside. To defeat the iPad, Windows’ tablets must not just be better…they must not just excel…they need to “wow”.

      • mhikl

        “But “very fine” won’t cut it.”

        I agree, Falkirk; but, for all the heartless tactics MicroSoft has played on others, I don’t like to kick a dog when it is down. It doesn’t take a seer to sense the penumbra of MicroSoft’s departure from the main. It may be that its ARM adventure is the only card MS has left. I can’t see if it has some other card up its sleeve, but unlike Apple, MicroSoft likes to show its cards. But as my pappy likes to say, “Where there’s life, there’s hope; even when on life support”. On the other hand, all the money in the world can only slow the inevitable; the clock is nearing the hour when we will get a better sense of how close MicroSoft’s descent to irrelevance really is.

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