By Adam Doud | March 20, 2013 7:00 AM
On October 26th, 2012, Microsoft sprung Windows 8 on the world. A platform to unite all platforms. You would get the same experience on desktops, laptops, and most importantly tablets. Windows 8 was designed to be touch friendly and therefore tablet friendly. Of course, this rather left desktops and laptops – Microsoft’s bread and butter – in somewhat of a lurch. Sure could use a mouse and keyboard with Windows 8, but it wasn’t really designed for that. As a compromise, Microsoft included “Desktop view” which took new users back to the warm and fuzzy look of Windows 7 and made things a bit more mouse friendly at the same time.
One big obstacle Microsoft faced was simply that tablets, for the most part, are underpowered compared to what one would get in a desktop or laptop. The only way to make tablet-friendly Windows 8 a tablet-friendly OS was to strip it down and cut out all the jiggly parts. Thus was born Windows 8 RT. It’s funny how things work out. Just as Microsoft compromised by offering “Desktop view” so too are they compromising by offering Windows 8 RT. Seems we’re just all chock full of compromise, aren’t we?
A speed test from our own Adam Lein showed that, surprise surprise, ARM processors are indeed slower than x86 processors. Mind = blown. The difference wasn’t night and day, but it was noticeable. Apparently, Microsoft cut the right corners to make this a serviceable tablet, from a performance perspective. However, the one corner they cut was adaptability to legacy applications which limits your usability to apps in the Marketplace and nothing more. Which takes us back to one of the biggest problems with tablets.
A former colleague of mine once said, “There doesn’t seem to be a tablet market out there so much as an iPad market.” Throughout the years, this has proven to be increasingly true. Aside from the iPad, there really has yet to be a tablet that can be called successful. The Amazon Kindle family are more media consumption devices rather than true “tablets” per se. HP’s Touchpad sales were at best lackadaisical right up until the fire sale, after which, retailers couldn’t keep them on shelves and webOS crashed Amazon (Editor’s note: still a fond memory). Considering that’s what fire sales are supposed to do, and considering that fire sale prices were 80% less than iPad equivalent sales, this was no shocker. A steady stream of Android tablets has streamed out of various OEMs but none have really caught on, with the possible exception of the Nexus 7, and the jury is really still out on that one.
There Is No App For That
One of the biggest criticisms of the Android tablet market has always been apps. Android hoped to address this issue by scaling all their phone apps up to tablet size which has left us with either a ton of white space, a pixilated mess, or in some unique cases of developers actually giving a rat’s patootie, separate apps from phone and tablet. In every case, this is a less-than-ideal situation.
Now enter Microsoft and the Surface RT. Microsoft debuted their iPad competitor last October with some killer videos showing off solid hardware design, innovative features such as the touch keyboard case, and break dancing. A lot of break dancing. It was all clickey and cool and smooth. But then people actually bought them and discovered Microsoft has the same problem (and a bigger problem at that) as Android – a lack of tablet-optimized apps. Microsoft had even gone the extra step in limiting the marketplace to tablet-only apps, not even allowing phone apps to scale up. So the 120,000 Windows Phone apps that they bragged about is more like fifty thousand Windows RT apps.
We Fear Change
Another problem with Windows 8 RT is Windows 8 itself. Windows 8 is a huge departure from every version of Windows going back to 1995. Doing the math, that’s 18 years. Because of this change and because Windows 7 itself is a pretty good operating system, adoption rates for Windows 8 have been pretty slow. And many of those who have adopted it are frustrated by the experience. Microsoft would have been wise taking a page from Apple’s book in this case and giving the tablet OS a different name. Indeed, iOS and MacOS are completely different user experiences. But since the name is not the same, people will not expect the same experience. Had Microsoft taken this approach, maybe things would have been different. Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.
In an age where people are looking to tablets to replace their laptops, Windows 8 RT just doesn’t cut the mustard. The drastic change in OS, combined with a flimsy app ecosystem have led to extremely high return rates for the Surface RT and even caused some OEMs in some regions to pull product off the shelves completely.
Go Pro or Go Home
In fact, as far as laptop replacements are concerned, the Surface Pro seems like a better compromise at this point. At least the addition of legacy software gives a wider variety of applications and a more seamless transition into the tablet world. Battery life would be a concern, but since it already is a concern for laptops, I personally fail to see a problem with that. For specific use-cases where a Surface is meant to be a Netflix-o-matic, perhaps an argument for the RT can be made, but our own review shows that the surface RT and indeed Windows 8 RT in general is simply not ready for prime time.
Once Windows Blue is released and a more unified experience can be delivered across all platforms and more importantly apps can be ported from phone to tablet and back again with ease, maybe RT can make a come back, LL Cool J style. For now, the world simply isn’t ready for as much compromise as Microsoft has to make in an operating system already full of compromise.