After widespread complaints by reviewers and bloggers, Microsoft has announced the death and discontinuation of its Surface RT tablet today. Oh wait, no it didn't. In fact, Cnet reports that chip provider Nvidia's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang says that Microsoft is working hard on a next-gen Surface RT.
Yes, Microsoft suffered a $900 million loss on its Surface RT tablets this year. That's a big hit, though I suspect Microsoft expected to take a beating coming into this fight against the iPad and Android tablets. When I saw the size of that loss, I initially figured RT was done and the Surface Pro, which runs the full Windows 8, would be the best option going forward. The Surface Pro is a more expensive option than the Surface RT, but it allows domain-join, group policy enforcement, and the ability to install traditional Windows applications (like Outlook). But apparently Microsoft hasn't given up on Surface RT.
There's hope that the Surface RT 2 tablet will be worthwhile. For one, it will include Outlook, which Huang says is the "killer app" for the Surface RT. He's right. I picked up a Surface RT at TechEd and love that it has a snap-in keyboard and Office 2013 apps built in. But I didn't like that its version of Office 2013 omitted Outlook, which forced me to get email through the browser using Outlook Web Access.
I also don't like that I have to manually add some websites using Adobe Flash via the Windows RT Whitelist Flash tool. There's a supposed hack to allow installation of traditional Windows applucations by circumventing Windows RT's code integrity mechanism. It's great stuff for geeks to play with, but not something you want to toss out for your enterprise.
I've said before I'm not a tablet guy, and I still mean it. I use tools like Camtasia (which I can't install on RT and wouldn't use on Pro, either), Articulate, and other resource-intensive software. These don't have Windows RT versions, but even if they did, they wouldn't likely run well on today's Surface RT.
Some people claim that the Surface RT's performance limits come from the use of the Nvidia Tegra 3 ARM processor. The next version will use the new Tegra 4, according to Nvidia's Huang, and perhaps that will address the performance issue. Other manufacturers use the Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and maybe those Windows RT tablets will post better performance numbers. However, few hardware manufacturers are still making Windows RT tablets, so that will be hard to judge.
If Microsoft delivers a Surface RT 2, I believe it will be valuable to students and office workers in the enterprise (especially if it comes with Outlook) because it includes the Office suite they're used to having their desks, while providing the portability of a tablet. Yes, that's the promise of today's Surface RT, which hasn't attracted buyers. But a better Surface RT — one with Outlook, better performance, and better battery life — could make the Surface concept attractive.
I'm not quite ready to deliver the eulogy for the Surface RT. The Surface brand and product line is salvageable. Let's see how it goes in Round 2.
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