What Is Wrong With Microsoft Windows RT Tablets That They Are Not Selling?

Windows RT operating system

We know about Surface tablet running Windows RT (Run Time), the ARM-specific Windows operating system that works on tablets. We have looked at the differences it has with Windows 8 regular. Windows RT is a tablet operating system, and hence doesn’t have the capability to install and run regular Windows applications. In one of the recent talks, NVidia’s co-founder and chief, Jen-Hsun Huang expressed disappointment over the sales of Windows RT tablets powered by NVidia Tegra processor.

NVidia has reason to talk about the sales of Windows RT devices. Three major Windows RT tablets—Microsoft Surface RT, Asus VivoTab RT, and Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11 are powered by NVidia’s Tegra 3 SoC.

Microsoft Surface RT


In another recent press conference, JK Shin, co-CEO of Samsung Electronics told to the WSJ:

Smartphones and tablets based on Microsoft’s Windows operating system aren’t selling very well. There is a preference in the market for Android. In Europe, we’re also seeing lackluster demand for Windows-based products.

Exactly how badly are Windows devices selling? I tried to do an analysis here are the findings.

Microsoft Failed to Explain the Differences


In an investigation conducted by the Verge, they found out how inadequately trained Microsoft’s store employees were about Windows RT and 8. To this date, most of the customers of Windows RT Surface tablets believe that Windows RT is just a toned-down version of Windows 8. You know, like how Windows 7 Ultimate has two more features than Windows 7 Professional!

One thing that we have told over and over again through various posts including our difference between RT and 8 article is that Windows RT is entirely different from Windows 8. If you are buying a Surface RT thinking about a touch-screen computer to run your desktop programs, you will be disappointed. Microsoft’s store wont’ tell you this, because those guys don’t have a clue.

From the beginning, Microsoft really failed to explain this to the customers, and look what happened! Sales went down cruelly for MS.

The chief of Windows, Steven Sinofsky had promised back during the time of the release of Surface RT that the differences between both operating systems would be told to the customers in an understandable way. That did not happen. And in Nov, 2012, the long-time veteran, Sinofsky went out of Microsoft, kind of leaving the company defenseless, I would say.

IHS ISuppli reported that less than a million Surface RT tablets were actually sold in the market. The exact sales figures should be around 680,000 to 750,000 only. Other important aspects mentioned by the market research company were that the return rate of Surface RT tablets was higher than usual and that the OEMs were becoming less enthusiastic about the operating system.

Surface RT Is Priced High


In our technology market, only a few companies are allowed to set high prices and still retain its command on the market. Apple is one such company. Microsoft is definitely not a company that can set high prices on its products, although they are great. Surface RT is not a great device, but it is sold at a high price, while the manufacturing cost is only 283 dollars. In that article also, we mentioned that RT is not Windows.

Surface RT’s capabilities as a tablet doesn’t let it command such a high price, especially since all of its working apps come through Microsoft’s app store, which has a tiny selection of apps.

Microsoft has no place in the tablet market in fact. This is the tablet market sales figures as given by research firm IDC.

Manufacturer 2012 4th quarter # of shipments Market Share (Q4 2012) Notes
Apple (iPad & Mini) 22.9 million 43.6 % All tablets running iOS
Samsung 7.9 million 15.1 % All tablet running Android
Amazon 6 million 11.5 % Tablets running Android (customized)
Asus 3.1 million 5.8 % Android and Windows RT and Windows 8
Barnes & Noble 1 million 1.9 % Android
Others 11.6 million 22.1 % Android & Windows


First of all, through this particular table of sales figures, we can’t say how many Windows RT tablets have been sold. One thing is certain though: Apple has sold more than 22 times Surface RT. There are other manufacturers making tablets based on Windows RT. In fact, there are five tablets based on RT—Asus Vivo Tab RT, Dell XPS 10, Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11, Samsung Ativ, and Microsoft Surface RT.

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga


Dell hasn’t sold many of its XPS 10 tablets. XPS (Xtreme Performance System) is a popular brand under Dell that sells laptops and desktops, and I own one of them. Windows RT, however, on XPS 10 probably tainted the brand at best.

Windows RT Doesn’t Have Many Apps


Wanted to know how many apps are available for your Windows RT device? By the last scan done by MetroStore scanner, on , there are 49,328 apps in the Windows store.

Out of them, there are only 1820 productivity apps. This doesn’t come anywhere close to Apple’s app store which caters to iPad 4 and Mini, containing over 800,000 apps, of which nearly 300,000 are specifically optimized for the iPad.

Windows RT devices are not as productive as iPad or any Android tablet.

In this page, detailing the differences between Surface RT and Surface Pro, Microsoft does speak about the app limitations of Windows RT, but as we mentioned above, this is not how you reach out to the customers. On the other hand, Surface Pro runs the full Windows 8 operating system and is thus capable of running all kind of Windows applications, and it is also one of the best and most productive tablet computers you can buy.

Microsoft’s Stronghold


Microsoft has a stronghold on the device design, and it imposes this on all OEMs wanting to manufacture devices based on Win RT. Due to this stronghold, Texas Instruments, HP, and Toshiba declined to make tablets with Windows RT. Acer also thought it apt not to make a tablet based on RT. Samsung released its tablet called Ativ to the UK market, and canceled the release to the US. In another report, Samsung also did stop its Ativ tablet shipping to Germany, due to as you guessed it, weak demand!

In Conclusion


I would like to mention a pet peeve of mine to this list. Windows “RT” is not really a beautiful, catchy name to give to that operating system. There is more than one operating system that Microsoft released in the past that were not quite popular and had the not-so-catchy name. Windows ME is one, and so is Windows CE. Win XP on the other hand has a catchy name and has revolutionized the PC market.

Microsoft’s other operating systems, Windows Phone and Windows 8 are also not quite selling as expected. Here is a Gartner study giving the operating system activations over the years. It clearly tells the story. Click the image to enlarge.

Gartner study of operating system activations


Leave out unsuccessful operating systems—Bada, Symbian, and even BlackBerry. Look at the difference in number of activations that Microsoft is achieving in comparison to iOS and Android. Although there is probably a steady growth, it is not really a positive growth.

We may look at the other Windows operating systems in another article. Right now, it is definitely a state of concern for Microsoft as the operating systems are its major revenue source.

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