How Microsoft Can Save Windows RT, Surface RT

Microsoft's Windows RT confused potential buyers right off the bat, and the confusion turned to indifference over time. CIO.com blogger James A. Martin shares details on some of his experiences with the Surface RT tablet and offers advice on how Microsoft can plug the hole in the Windows RT ship.

The news this week about Microsoft’s Windows 8 variant Windows RT hasn’t been pretty. And as much as I appreciate my Surface RT tablet, I have reasons for leaving it at home most of the time—as well as some advice for Microsoft on how to reverse RT's current downward trajectory.

First, the news. Research firm IDC released its tablet-market forecasts on Tuesday. Windows RT tablets will comprise only 1.9 percent of the tablet market share this year and just 2.7 percent in 2017, according to IDC.

Those figures are way, way behind estimates for tablet operating systems from Microsoft's rivals. In 2013, Android will be the top tablet OS with 48.8 percent of the market, IDC says. In 2017, Android will have 46 percent market share. By comparison, IDC predicts iOS will have 46 percent of the tablet market this year and 43.5 percent in 2017.

The total Windows 8 tablet market isn’t exactly going to spread Gangnam style, either. IDC estimates Windows tablets will have 2.8 percent market share in 2013 and 7.4 percent in 2017. (Read more about Windows RT’s precarious fate in Shane O’Neill’s recent CIO.com post, “Windows RT Teeters on Thin Ice.”)

Microsoft Surface RT tablet

But back to me.

I Don’t Trust the Surface RT for Travel

I bought a Surface RT tablet almost as soon as they became available last fall. In terms of hardware design, the Surface RT is one of the sexiest, sleekest tablets ever. The optional Type Cover ($130) is one of the best tablet keyboards available. And it's great to have a native version of Office 2013 on a tablet.

The Surface RT has the potential to be an ideal traveling companion, too. It's lightweight and has strong battery life, which makes it well suited for cross-country or international travel. The external keyboard doesn't require a Bluetooth connection so it doesn't drain battery. The vast majority of external keyboards connect to tablets using Bluetooth, and most airlines ban Bluetooth during flights. The Surface RT’s dimensions are also seatback-tray friendly; even if the person in front of you fully reclines you should still be able to use the tablet without a problem.

Still, I’ve never gone more than a few miles with my Surface RT. For one thing, the Internet Explorer web browser doesn’t always act like a full desktop browser. Example: I have difficulty entering content into various blogging and content management systems using the Surface RT’s browser. That’s a big problem for me, because much of my work requires the use of content management systems. I also need Adobe Photoshop Elements to properly size and edit images, and it’s not available for Windows RT devices.

I still experience occasional quirks that make me hesitant to rely on the Surface RT, as well. Sometimes, when I copy and paste URLs from Internet Explorer into a Word document, the actual pasting takes what seems like ages or it might cause Word to freeze altogether, forcing me to restart the program and lose unsaved edits.

My Unsolicited Advice

Since everyone is offering Microsoft advice about Windows RT, here’s mine:

  • Beef up Internet Explorer so users get the exact-same capabilities they get in the desktop version.
  • Work harder to incentivize major software developers, such as Adobe, to release Windows RT apps. (This is probably Microsoft’s biggest Windows RT challenge).
  • Lower the cost of the Surface RT tablet. Take a page from Google’s tablet playbook and use low pricing to get more market share. More market share could translate into increased interest from app developers. A 32GB Surface RT for $299 (instead of its current $499 price) would be a great deal. Of course, that price change would anger everyone who paid $499 for the device—all 25 of us.
  • Throw in a Windows RT version of Outlook.

What do you think? Do you have Windows RT advice for Microsoft? Should it try to save the RT ship or just cuth the loses and let it sink?

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