IDC analyst joins growing number advising Microsoft to ‘ditch Windows RT’

Since the release of Windows RT last fall, many have criticized the OS for its deficiencies, such as its inability to run legacy Windows apps and that further, users can only run apps downloaded from the online Microsoft Store.

Now, tech industry analysts IDC have called on Microsoft to dump it altogether, saying it is too confusing for consumers to have both Windows 8 and Windows RT in the marketplace.

IDC’s research director for tablets Tom Mainelli said the strategy of claiming both OSes are tablet-ready has largely been a failure.

“Two OSes for tablets has resulted in confusion on the consumer side,” Mainelli said recently. “Microsoft has had a difficult time spelling out why consumers would choose Windows RT over iOS or Android.”

Other analysts–such as Forrester Research’s Sarah Rotman Epps–have maintained since its release that Windows RT is a big mistake:

Microsoft will be its own worst enemy in this market. More so than Apple or Google, the worst thing that could happen to Microsoft’s Windows RT tablets is Windows 8 on x86. Selling x86-based tablets in the same retail channels as Windows RT tablets will confuse consumers and sow discontent if consumers buy x86 and think they’re getting something like the iPad. Microsoft and its partners need to articulate a compelling strategy for how they will manage consumer expectations in the channel. Consumers aren’t used to thinking about chipsets. Choice is a key tenet of Windows, but too much choice is overwhelming for consumers. Apple gets this, and limits iPad options to connectivity, storage, and black . . . or white.

IDC has gone a step further and is backing up its stance with sales projections:

According to IDC’s forecast, Windows RT tablets will end 2013 with only a 1.9% share of the year’s shipments, or 3.6 million devices out of total of 190.4 million. That’s not much more than Apple sold in three days after the iPad Mini launch last fall.

In comparison, 93.2 million Android tablets and 87.8 million iOS-powered iPads will ship this year, as Google’s mobile operating system takes the top spot for the first time.

Mainelli has some suggestions for what Microsoft should be doing, in this excerpt from PCWorld.com:

Rather than devote time and energy to Windows RT, Microsoft should put its tablet bet on Windows 8, the full-featured OS. “People may not love Windows 8, but it’s compatible with the software they’ve always run,” Mainelli said. “RT may look like Windows, but in fact it’s not.”

Windows RT devices can run only Windows Store apps, those written for the WinRT API (application programming interface), and cannot run so-called “legacy” software, the kind that users are familiar with and that work in Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7.

Microsoft allows its own Office and Internet Explorer to run on restricted “desktop” on Windows RT, but bars others from doing the same.

Windows 8 tablets will capture 2.8% of the market by the end of 2013, IDC estimated, representing 5.3 million units. But by 2017, when Windows RT still sports a flagging share of 2.7%—9.5 million of the projected 350 million tablets for the year—Windows 8 will have more than doubled its share of the market, climbing to 7.4%, or 25.9 million devices.

In 2017, IDC forecast shipments of 161 million Android tablets and 152.3 million iPads.

Even after five years on the market, IDC expects Windows RT to have just 2.7% of the tablet market, one reason why it encouraged Microsoft to ditch the OS. (Data: IDC.)

Partners bailing

Microsoft’s OEM (original equipment manufacturers) partners have been just as bearish on Windows RT as IDC. In January, Samsung—a key tablet maker—said it wouldn’t release a Windows RT device in the U.S. And earlier this month, the South Korean electronics giant confirmed it was pulling its Windows RT-powered Ativ Tab from European sales channels.

Mainelli stopped short of saying Windows RT was a flop—”It’s not a bad product,” he argued—but said it was clear Microsoft made the wrong design choice, then followed with muddied marketing.

Samsung’s Ativ Tab, powered by Windows RT

“There’s a reason why Apple scaled iOS from the phone to the tablet, why Google scaled Android from the phone to the tablet,” said Mainelli. “That makes a lot of sense, there are synergies there.”

Microsoft famously decided on a different path, instead taking a subset of its Windows desktop operating system, porting it to the ARM processor architecture, and calling it Windows RT.

“Consumers aren’t buying Windows RT’s value proposition, and long term we think Microsoft and its partners would be better served by focusing their attention on improving Windows 8,” said Mainelli in a Tuesday statement accompanying its revised tablet forecast. “Such a focus could drive better share growth in the tablet category down the road.”

He elaborated in the interview.

“As new processors come along, Microsoft should make a big push that Windows 8 is its tablet OS,” said Mainelli. “That has the potential to have legs.”

But Microsoft could take another tack, Mainelli acknowledged, citing the quick shift in tablets to devices with screens 8 inches in size or smaller. This quarter, more than half of all tablets shipped will be of that size.

“We may see Windows RT shifted to tablets of smaller sizes and lower prices,” Mainelli speculated.

(Disclosure: IDC, TechHive, Macworld, and PCWorld are all owned by the International Data Group.)

Microsoft has quietly made its mistakes go away before (remember Windows ME or “Microsoft Bob”?)…so it should do the same with Windows RT.

Let it sleep with the fishes.

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