Back when Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) was first introducing Windows 8 to the world, it also announced that it would be bringing the Windows platform to the ARM ecosystem with Windows RT. Unfortunately for Microsoft, this plan was an abject failure and with the end of production of the Lumia 2520 the platform is all but dead.
But why exactly did Windows RT fail? After all, porting what is arguably the world’s best known operating system to the growing ARM ecosystem only seemed logical. The x86 platform would always be the primary home to Windows, but Windows itself needed a proper presence in the tablet and smartphone space.
Microsoft’s problem with Windows RT was two-fold: first the platform lacked a proper selection of apps, and the Metro UI interface was not well received by customers.
While Windows RT looked just like its desktop companion, there was one critical difference: as it was running on ARM silicon the existing library of software for Windows simply would not work on it. Aside from pre-installed versions of Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer, there simply was not the software ecosystem to support the platform. As software vendors didn’t know the platform’s potential for success, they didn’t bother producing ARM-compatible ports meaning that users weren’t able to do much with their Windows RT devices.
Windows RT’s Metro UI didn’t help much either. The UI has been long criticized for simply not being as good as the competing UIs of iOS and the many incarnations of Android. In comparison, it’s simply uninspired and bland. In addition in desktop mode it’s nearly unusable with the touch screen input of the Surface. It all felt a generation behind what the competition had available.
The price Microsoft paid
In 2013 Microsoft disclosed that it had taken a $900 million charge for “inventory adjustments” because of Surface and Windows RT. Quite simply: Microsoft expected to sell a lot more than it actually did, which left it sitting with mountains of unsold inventory.
During an earnings call in November 2013, Julie Larson-Green, EVP of Devices for Microsoft, admitted Microsoft’s failings and hinted at the path the company would be taking.
“I think we didn’t explain that super-well. I think we didn’t differentiate the devices well enough. They looked similar. Using them is similar. It just didn’t do everything that you expected Windows to do,” she said.