Surface RT and Windows RT: does the overseas market hold the key to their success? (opinion)

The Surface RT tablet and the Windows RT operating system created quite a stir when they were released last October, but the wait-and-see approach some PC manufacturers have taken towards the Windows RT operating system, and the rise of the Surface RT’s big brother, the Surface Windows 8 Pro, might be a real threat to their survival in the US.

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In February, Microsoft announced that it would be selling the Surface RT tablet in 13 new markets; Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland with more countries to be announced at a later date.

Now, five months after its October 2012 release, Microsoft Japan President Yasuyuki Higuchi announced during a media event in Tokyo, that the Surface RT tablet will reach store shelves in Japan by March 15th. “Finally, the Surface RT will debut in Japan... many customers and our partners have asked me when the Surface RT will come in Japan," Higuchi said.

Available in 32GB or 64GB versions, the Surface RT comes with 4GB RAM, a USB 2.0 port, a micro SDXC card slot, an HDMI port, Bluetooth 4.0, and is powered by an ARM processor. More than a tablet, the device has many of the attributes of a laptop, and is arguably, one of the best tablets in today’s mobile marketplace. But its Achilles heel seems to be that its operating system, Windows RT; which, many believe to be a scaled down version of Windows 8, does not allow downloads from the web. It should be noted that neither Apple iOS nor Android allow downloads from the web, but somehow this seems to be a deal breaker with US consumers, when it comes to Windows RT.

Although manufacturers such as ASUS, and Dell, have released devices running Windows RT in the United States, others have been slow to respond. In January electronics giant, Samsung, cancelled its plan to release the Ativ Tab in the US because of low demand, and the amount of money it would cost Samsung to advertise the benefits of buying a Windows RT machine.

That Samsung would cite the cost of educating US consumers to the benefits of Windows RT as opposed to educating consumers in other countries, is very telling. In many overseas markets, price is the primary driver of sales, and the Surface RT might be more appealing. And although US consumers have become accustomed to buying tablets that only allow downloads from an app store, and not the web, convincing them to buy a laptop that doesn’t allow downloads from the web, is a much harder sell.

Ironically, another factor that might affect the long term survival of the Surface RT in the US, is the Surface Windows 8 Pro; which cost considerably more than the Surface RT, but offers much more in processing power, and runs the full version of Windows 8. Essentially a desktop in the form of a tablet, The Surface Windows 8 Pro comes with 4GB RAM, a USB 3.0 port, a micro SDXC card slot, a mini display port, Bluetooth 4.0, and is powered by an Intel Core i5 processor. What it presents in the minds of many US consumers is the old, “I want it all” mentality where cost is immaterial. “Whether I need it or not, why buy a tablet that doesn’t do everything, when I can buy one that can?”

Surprisingly, Acer, Microsoft’s Taiwanese partner that was displeased with Microsoft over the manufacture of Surface tablets, is reportedly, again, working on its own RT tablet. Acer's president of Europe, Middle East and Africa operations, Oliver Ahrens, confirmed during Mobile World Congress 2013 that Windows RT will be part of the company's aggressive mobile lineup for this year. But, did not state when a product would be launched.

So is Windows RT and the Surface RT dead in the water? Or does it still have life and we just need to give it more time?