HARDWARE

Windows Surface RT: Pros & Cons

Microsoft's new tablet may be off to a slow start, but it's too early to dismiss the device. Here's what Surface has going for it.
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Search giant Google just released its Zeitgeist 2012 list. For those who are not sure what the term means, a zeitgeist is like the pulse of a nation. For anyone wondering what the world at large is thinking, Google searches are a good tell-all.

One of the most interesting findings, especially given the fact that Google competes so ferociously with Microsoft, is that the Microsoft Surface RT tablet clocks in at No. 6 on the list of tech gadget searches, beating out the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and the Samsung Galaxy S2, which both run Android OS.

Meanwhile, the Google Nexus 7-inch tablet and the Kindle Fire ranked higher. Sitting at the very top? The Apple iPad 3 and the iPad Mini.

That's a good reflection of what analysts have told me about the success of the first Windows 8 tablet to run on a mobile ARM processor. Roger Kay with Endpoint Technologies Associates says the launch has not gone too well. Rumors about Microsoft ordering about 3-5 million units into production, and then cutting that number in half, are not a good sign. Tom Mainelli, an IDC Research Director, told me that the Surface RT is off to a slow start. The well-regarded analyst group says there might be a problem with supply--and demand. And, Surface RT app selection is abysmal.

So what's one to make of all of this? First, we know this is a Microsoft mobile product running a new operating system with a nifty slide-out stand and a functional flip-over cover-keyboard. The "Movement" commercial is on heavy rotation, not only during football games but during sitcoms, reality-shows, Discovery channel repeats and everything in between. The marketing strategy seems to be: Anyone who breathes might buy one. There's no question Microsoft has created buzz around their line-up.

The Misconceptions

The real question is whether people are buying them, and Microsoft has not released any sales figures. There does seem to be a fair amount of confusion about where the Surface RT fits. Even fellow Inc.com columnist Geoffrey James seemed to imply that the Surface RT might be doomed because of a virus problem, attracting a legion of criticism and even rebuttal posts elsewhere on the Web.

Endpoint's Kay says the exact opposite is true. In fact, Kay called the Surface RT "the future of Microsoft" because the tablet is mostly immune to Windows viruses. (Whether a rootkit developer could re-compile code for the RT model is best left to the hacking community to decide.) As with any new product, success attracts unethical hacking and virus infestations. For now, the Surface RT might be safe because it isn't that popular.

Here's what we do know about the app question: After testing the Surface RT, it is impossible to install an app like Adobe Photoshop or the standard Windows version of Spotify. The RT tablet uses a version of Windows 8 written specifically for the mobile processor. That's a blessing (no viruses) and a curse (no Win apps). The only real "desktop" apps you will find are the Microsoft Office apps for the RT tablet. (Side note here: These apps are a bit limited compared to the full desktop versions for Windows.) That said, the comments and attacks on James were vicious and exaggerated.

Meanwhile, my view is that everyday consumers are a bit perplexed about what this all means. Clearly, the major advantage to the Surface RT is that so far it is impervious to viruses. But the upcoming Surface Pro also has a major advantage: It can run the Metro tile interface with mobile apps plus any desktop app you care to install.

There might be a reason more people are just buying an iPad, though. Mobile processors? Rootkit attacks? Tile interfaces versus desktop apps? Arguments about Windows 8? In the end, most of us just want to play Angry Birds and run Evernote.

IMAGE: courtesy of Microsoft
Last updated: Dec 12, 2012

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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