Korean company Samsung's decision to pull tablets from all non-Asian markets is being viewed by many as proof that the Windows RT operating system is a failure.
Initially, a Samsung spokesman at this week's CeBIT tech fair in Hanover told German tech news site Heise that it was discontinuing sales of its Ativ Tab not only in Germany but in the rest of Europe due to weak demand, before another spokesperson clarified the company's position, confirming that sales would stop in Germany but that a final decision was yet to be taken regarding the rest of Europe.
A feasibility study before the Ativ Tab's launch showed that there wasn't sufficient demand for the tablet in North America and so Samsung has never attempted to market the device in the US. However, UK newspaper The Guardian, who also reported the story, claims that Samsung is now planning to pull the tablet from everywhere except Asia. "Windows RT has serious problems with developers, OEMs and customers," wrote Charles Arthur, the newspaper's Technology Editor.
The news will be seen as yet another blow to Microsoft's attempts to compete directly with the iPad and top-end Android tablets such as the Nexus-7 and the Samsung-manufactured Nexus-10.
But why, despite its huge launch and equally huge advertising campaign, has the Windows RT platform and its related tablets failed to capture the public's imagination?
Over at Ars Techinca, seasoned Microsoft writer Peter Bright says it's because the operating system is "a lemon." "In spite of having all the working parts of Windows 8,," Bright wrote, "it can't (officially) be used to run desktop applications, even if the developers of those applications are willing to recompile for the ARM processor. Instead, all applications must come through the Windows Store."
ARM processors are low on processing power but kind on battery life -- therefore they are unable to run desktop applications or full operating systems and are best suited to ‘consumption' rather than creation devices.
Too many choices
Microsoft took a huge gamble by launching a tablet operating system, a desktop operating system, two different types of tablet and a smartphone operating system plus a selection of handsets more or less simultaneously. As a result, potential customers have been left confused as to which tablet or operating system does what.
Windows RT is an operating system designed to compete with iOS and Android and, like Apple's and Google's offerings, is designed to work only with either pre-installed apps or those available in a dedicated app store. And therein lies the biggest problem -- there is a tiny selection of apps for Windows RT devices and many early adopters of RT tablets, in particular Microsoft's own Surface RT, mistakenly believed that because it was powered by Windows, it would be able to run existing Windows software.
This confusion is easy to understand because, as well as the Surface RT, Microsoft announced another tablet, the Surface Pro, which looks pretty much identical but is essentially a notebook computer disguised as a tablet. It can run desktop applications and is backwards-compatible with existing ‘legacy' applications -- i.e. Windows apps and third-party software owners already have on their computers.
However, at $899 (without the touchcover keyboard) it is also almost twice as expensive as the RT (prices for which start at $499). And, although the Surface RT boasts excellent hardware and premium materials in its construction, it simply cannot compete in terms of software. Apple already offers its customers over 200,000 tablet-optimized apps and almost all of the 800,000 apps in Google's Play stores can be ‘scaled up' to run on Android tablets.
None of which is good news to those people who have invested in a Microsoft or Samsung Windows RT tablet. However, according to Bright, Microsoft has the tools at its disposal to make the platform work. RT cannot currently run Outlook, but a firmware update would solve that problem. As for apps, more are appearing in the Windows store and if Microsoft is serious about its own and its partners' tablets, it will start offering developers greater incentives to bring their ideas to Windows.
But for now, anyone in the market for a tablet who has $499 to spare should play it safe and consider either an iPad or an Android tablet that offers the Jellybean 4.2 version of the operating system out of the box.