For the last couple of years Microsoft's been having a tough time of it. Competitors such as Apple and Google have been rolling out a host of new software, services and hardware that, to some commentators and a vast section of the general public, make Microsoft products look like something from the Stone Age.
One of the biggest parts of this criticism was the PC giant's stuttered entry into the tablet space and previous lack of ARM support for its Slate PCs, which – using fully blown computer processors – featured woefully short battery lives compared with their Android and iOS, non-Windows rivals.
Because of this when Microsoft unveiled its two brand-spanking-new Windows RT operating system and own-brand Surface RT tablet it made perfect sense, at least on paper. After all, the tablet technically ticked all the boxes, featuring an ARM mobile processor that while light on power offered decent battery life and a new touch-based tile user interface.
However come release the Surface RT suffered the same fate as BlackBerry's PlayBook tablet, with consumers and businesses by and large ignoring the device and sticking to their existing iPad and Nexus devices. As a result Microsoft's been forced to radically cut the price of the RT, leading to a massive $900m write-off on the quarter – for those who can't remember BlackBerry took a $485m hit on its 2012 third-quarter revenues when it slashed the PlayBook's price. In total that's almost $1.5bn in trying to enter the tablet market dominated by Apple and its iPad.
Of course there are multiple possible reasons for both tablets' poor sales, but for me there's one key explanation; they both boast woefully underdeveloped app stores. Unlike the Surface Pro, which runs using the full version of Windows 8, the RT uses the stripped-down version. This means unlike the Pro, the RT isn't legacy application compatible and can only run apps in the main Windows Marketplace, which sadly, like the PlayBook's, is woefully lacking when compared to iOS and Android's.
While there are of course other reasons for the RT's poor performance, for me it's the biggest as the understocked marketplace shows developers – a key component in any ecosystem's success – aren't interested in Windows RT. Time and time again we've seen that technical prowess means nothing unless developers are interested in the device's software ecosystem – remember MeeGo and Symbian?
For this reason it seems more than fair to say the Surface RT is the new PlayBook.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
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