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The predictable struggles of the Windows Surface RT tablet

July 19, 2013 0 Comments

Seven years ago, in discussing the struggles between the Blu-Ray and HD-DVD formats, I set forth some rules on what it takes for an new technology to displace an entrenched one:

  • The alternative has to be clearly superior in one or more ways — so much so that the consumer has to be willing not only to spend money on it but to learn how to use it and to put up with some of the bumps and fits of adopting a new solution.
  • The alternative has to be standardized so as to achieve broad support and use, including from third-party firms.
  • The alternative has to be able to be used in parallel with the consumer’s existing solution rather than require the consumer to abandon his/her current solution and all the financial, emotional, and intellectual investment in that solution.
  • The alternative needs to expand in utility and functionality, and decrease in cost, until the user is willing to let go of his/her prior solution.

I believe these rules explain why the Microsoft RT Surface tablet, introduced last year, is struggling so much, with Microsoft taking a $900M writedown for “inventory adjustment”.  Microsoft was very late to the tablet party, and so had a dual task: to compete both against existing tables (Apple and the Android variants) and against notebook computers. Let’s look briefly at each of these points.

Clearly superior

Yes, we all know that the Surface RT comes with a keyboard, but there are a host of keyboards available for iPads and many of the Android tablets. Beyond that, what real technology/solution advantage does the Surface RT offer?


The Surface RT can’t run most Windows applications, and of course it’s not going to run iOS or Android apps, so it has to start mostly from scratch in build its own app store (the “Windows Store”).

Parallel Use

The Surface RT does fine here and is, in theory at least, a better fit as a second device for someone using a Windows 8 laptop or desktop than an iPad or Android tablet.

Expand in Utility/Decrease in Cost

The expansion of utility — via the Windows Store — is starting to catch up, though questions remain how many of those apps run on the Surface RT. Microsoft did cut the cost of the Surface RT, but it’s clear that’s in response to sluggish sales, not because a newer and better version of the Surface RT is coming out at the original price point.

Interestingly, the same four points show why Apple has been so successful with the iPad, to the extent that it (and to a lesser extent, the Android tables) killed off the whole netbook market category and are almost certainly a factor in the decline of PC laptop and desktop sales.

Not a happy time for Microsoft.  ..bruce..



Filed in: Main, Technology

About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at

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