Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why has Microsoft crippled the Windows Surface RT tablet?

I kept thinking today, when something doesn’t quite make sense there is a hidden reason I’m not seeing. I was thinking about Microsoft’s Windows Surface RT tablet. Initially I thought Microsoft were simply copying Apple. Apple has been very successful releasing a restricted device, making billions in revenue from apps as you can only buy apps from their app store.

The problem with copying is you never become the leader. You only ever become a second player because the main player in the game is always ahead of you. I actually thought Microsoft should lead and not follow.

As the Microsoft Surface RT device stands it is crippled in the following ways:
  • The general user can only install apps from the Microsoft store.
  • Included is Office 2013 RT, but the version is crippled by not including macros and you can’t install the full version of Office.
  • The Mail app is very limited. You can’t even include a link in your signature and I’m not sure there is a better alternative available.
  • Office 2013 RT is only licensed for personal use so all those people using Office 2013 without an enterprise or similar licence are breaching their licence terms.
To me none of this makes sense. I appreciate RT can’t run applications designed for Intel processors so most of the existing Windows software won’t run. That’s OK. Include the runtimes for the main languages and let developers recompile their software and the Surface RT could quickly become a cost effective alternative to the iPad with millions of applications available. Provide the full version of Office including Outlook or Windows Live Mail and the Microsoft Surface RT becomes something I’d seriously consider, as that long battery life is quite appealing.

So why not do it? Today the answer which came to me was it could cannibalise Microsoft’s own market for the Microsoft Surface Pro.

The Windows Surface RT is like a placeholder. A product which makes people think it is serious contender priced around the same as the market leader, but unlikely to gain market share due to the crippled nature of the device. Microsoft’s only saving grace is, as Windows users we have so much invested in terms of how we do things, that to change is much harder than simply paying the extra money for the Surface Pro.

The problem for Microsoft is the Surface Pro is priced as an up market device and if treated as a tablet it is very expensive with poor battery life. If treated as a notebook it is very expensive with poor hard disk capacity, a small screen and poor keyboard. You have to be prepared to pay the premium and accept the compromises. Some will, but some won’t. If Microsoft causes too much pain they’ll find people start looking at alternate ways to achieve what they do today.

If the Surface RT was made to be a more open device it may have a chance, but as it is, I’d find it very difficult to recommend to a client, either home or business user.

I may of course be wrong, but to me it makes more sense that Microsoft doesn’t want the Surface RT and similar RT devices to cannibalise the Surface Pro market.

The good thing is consumers will make their voices heard using their wallets. In my case I’ve already changed how I use email so my emails can now be accessed from any device (Windows, Apple, Android) and slowly my reasons (and dependency) for using Outlook are diminishing. My latest spreadsheet was created using a free online service, so for many basic and perhaps not so basic users, the dependency on Word, Excel and PowerPoint may also diminish.

I’m using a mobile phone or tablet a lot more of the time than my notebook so that means I don’t have to upgrade the notebook anytime soon and if others are doing the same, the PC industry and Microsoft are going to start hurting much more than they are now. The problem for Microsoft is if they don’t cannibalise their own product range someone else generally will.

Kelvin Eldridge
Call 0415 910 703 for computer support.
Servicing Doncaster, Templestowe, Eltham and the surrounding area.

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