Microsoft Manager Admits Surface RT Branding Confused People


As Microsoft gears up to launch its Surface 2 tablets, one of its product managers is acknowledging that getting rid of the "RT" for the Windows RT 8.1 version could make things clearer for customers.

"We think that there was some confusion in the market last year on the difference between Surface RT and Surface Pro. We want to help make it easier for people, and these are two different products designed for two different people," Jack Cowett, product manager for Microsoft Surface, told Australian Reseller News last week.

This is one of the reasons why Microsoft removed "RT" from its branding for the ARM-based version of Surface 2, Cowett told ARN. Surface 2 runs Windows RT 8.1, whereas Surface 2 Pro, its Intel-based counterpart, runs Windows 8.1. Both are slated to hit store shelves on Oct. 22.

[Related: Microsoft Windows 8 Update Paves Way For Phablet]

According to partners, Microsoft's biggest mistake was not making it clear that Windows RT isn't compatible with traditional Windows apps and can only run Microsoft's touch-friendly modern apps. This hasn't changed with Windows RT 8.1, so if Surface 2 fares better than its predecessor, it'll be due to the upgraded hardware and improved performance Microsoft is touting.

Andy Kretzer, director of sales and marketing at Bold Data Technology, a Fremont, Calif.-based system builder, told CRN that Microsoft's Surface marketing didn't adequately distinguish the differences between Windows 8 and Windows RT.

"Microsoft chose to market from the 'desktop down,' and so these devices were all thought to be touch, tablet-enabled versions of a Windows desktop," Kretzer said in an email. In contrast, "Apple consumers understood that an iPad was like a larger version of their existing iPhone, since Apple marketed it from the 'phone up.' No one thought that an iPad was a tablet version of a MacBook."

As for clearing up confusion, Joe Balsarotti, president of Software To Go, a St. Peters, Mo.-based Microsoft partner, says this actually isn't a big deal, since he's been warning customers to stay away from Windows RT since it arrived.

"Since virtually all our customers see us as their consultant, Windows RT never really confused them, as we told the handful [at most] who asked about it not to waste their money," Balsarotti said in an email.

Microsoft is hoping the name change, combined with a $50 price cut, will help Surface 2 fare better than Surface RT. Microsoft took a $900 million charge in July on unsold Surface RT inventory, but last week warned of "limited availability" for pre-order stock of its new-and-improved Surface 2 tablets.

Getting more Microsoft partners involved in selling Surface tablets could also help avoid confusion. Microsoft is working on an invitation-only program that will expand the number of partners that can sell Surface tablets, sources told CRN last week.

PUBLISHED OCT. 14, 2012