Microsoft took a bit of a gamble when the company launched Windows RT in late 2012. Up until that point, it’s flagship Windows operating system only ran on computers with x86 processors, but phones, tablets, and other devices with ARM-based chips were flooding the market. So Microsoft released a version of Windows that runs on ARM.
The software company even released its own tablet, the Surface RT to show what the platform could do.
But Microsoft wasn’t alone in gambling on Windows RT — the company also encouraged hardware partners including Asus, Dell, Lenovo and others to launch Windows RT products. It appears that none of them have sold as well as hoped, and in recent months we’ve seen a series of price cuts and manufacturers dropping plans for future Windows RT devices.
Asus told the Wall Street Journal this week that it’s done making Windows RT devices. Microsoft recently slashed $150 off the starting price for its own Surface RT tablets. NVIDIA blames slow uptake of Windows RT for lower-than-expected revenues from its Tegra chip family. And there are plenty of other signs that Windows RT might not be very popular with consumers.
There are probably a few reasons for that, including:
- Windows RT devices with ARM-based processors can’t run most legacy Windows apps such as Photoshop, iTunes, or popular PC games. So one of the key reasons to choose a Windows device over an Android, Mac, or iOS device doesn’t apply.
- You can’t even easily install apps that aren’t downloaded from the Windows Store on a Windows RT tablet — and most apps are designed to run only in the full-screen “Metro” style user interface, not the classic desktop mode.
- While Microsoft was busy making a version of Windows that could run on ARM chips, offering long battery life and instant-on capabilities, Intel was busy making chips that could match many of those functions. So you can find full Windows 8 tablets with similarly long battery life, similar (or better) performance, and similar price tags.
Arguably another big problem is that Apple continues to set the standard for tablet prices. People are used to considering Apple products as premium devices, which means that it’s tough for anyone to move a lot of tablets that are priced higher than an iPad, even if they have more memory, more storage, and the ability to run software that’s not available on an iPad.
Any way you look at it, Windows RT hasn’t exactly been a runaway success story, and so it’s not surprising to see companies like Asus pulling out. It’s not like Asus needs Windows RT to succeed — the company offers Windows 8 tablets with Intel processors, a large family of Android products with ARM chips, and a series of higher-priced ultrabooks and other computers.
Microsoft, on the other hand, has already sunk a lot of time and effort into Windows RT, so it’d be surprising to see the company give up right away. Who knows, maybe as ARM-based chips get faster, some of the initial problems could fall away. For instance, we could eventually see Windows RT with support for running apps in desktop mode — and maybe Microsoft would consider building an x86 emulator that would allow you to run some legacy Windows apps on a Windows RT machine. Maybe.
For now, it seems pretty clear that we’ve got at least another year of Windows RT ahead of us — NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang says the chip maker is already working with Microsoft on a second-generation Surface RT tablet.
Aside from the fact that the new model will include Microsoft Outlook, along with other Office apps, Huang hasn’t said much about the new tablet. While he thinks Outlook is a killer app for Windows, I suspect that’s not as true as it might have been a few years ago.