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Microsoft admits Surface RT naming caused 'some confusion'

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Steven Sinofsky Microsoft stock
Steven Sinofsky Microsoft stock

In the days leading up to the Surface RT release last year, Microsoft had largely failed to explain the differences between Windows 8 and Windows RT to consumers. The software maker picked the Windows RT moniker to power its own ARM-based Surface RT tablet alongside others from PC makers. Dell urged Microsoft to drop the branding, and Samsung opted not to launch its own Windows RT tablets in the US because of confusion and weak demand. Now Microsoft has admitted its decision to drop the "RT" brand from its upcoming Surface 2 tablet was to address consumer confusion.

In an interview with Australian publication ARN, Microsoft Surface product manager Jack Cowett admits the RT name was confusing for customers. "We think that there was some confusion in the market last year on the difference between Surface RT and Surface Pro," admits Cowett. "We want to help make it easier for people, and these are two different products designed for two different people." Microsoft first released its Surface RT tablet under the name "Microsoft Surface with Windows RT," but the company soon dropped the full name for Surface RT shortly afterwards.

A desktop mode and confusing RT name didn't help sales

The confusion is likely down to two aspects: a Windows RT name that means nothing to consumers and the availability of a traditional Windows desktop that's restricted to Microsoft Office and a few system utilities. While Microsoft is releasing a new Surface 2 tablet without the RT moniker, the Windows RT 8.1 operating system still retains the desktop without the ability to run traditional desktop applications. The latest software (8.1) improves access to settings and options in the "Metro-style" view, so consumers won't need to access the desktop as frequently, but its existence could still lead to confusion this time around.

Microsoft has been left alone as the single supporter of Windows RT with its upcoming Surface 2 tablet. Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Samsung have no Windows RT-based products coming to market this holiday season and it's unclear if and when these PC makers will opt for Windows RT again. Nokia is rumored to be preparing to unveil a Windows RT-based Lumia 2520 tablet later this month which will likely be released in November. However, Microsoft is acquiring Nokia's devices business in a deal that will close in early 2014, meaning it will still be the single supporter of its ARM operating system. While Surface RT may have been confusing for some, Microsoft is aiming to explain to consumers why they'd want to buy a Surface 2 this holiday season. A focus on creativity and power is clear, but the company will need to do more to ensure it avoids the slow sales that plagued its original Surface RT tablet.