Will Surface Pro prevail over RT? IDC chimes in

Surface Pro has the Windows heritage behind it. Will future versions of the Pro eventually bury the RT version?

The high-end Surface Pro was chronically out of stock for weeks. That's not longer the case.
The high-end Surface Pro was chronically out of stock for weeks. That's not longer the case. Microsoft

Microsoft's high-end Surface Pro tablet is finally in stock, following chronic shortages since the February launch. Is it destined to eclipse Microsoft's other tablet platform?

As recently as early this month, it was almost impossible to walk into a Microsoft Store and pick up a high-end 128GB Surface Pro. But that has all changed now.

But both the 64GB and 128GB models are available for immediate shipment and checks at stores in California and Arizona show that stock is plentiful.

The question now is, which version of Surface will prevail, the more expensive -- and fully-compatible -- Windows 8 Pro or the cheaper and incompatible Surface RT?

"The problem is RT launched at $499 just as the market was shifting to smaller sized tablets," said Tom Mainelli, research director of tablets at market researcher IDC, in an interview with CNET. Mainelli authored a report on the tablet market released today.

"So, if RT is going to gain any traction, they're going to have to have a wider variety of screen sizes and certainly lower prices."

The Surface RT and RT platform in general may be a challenge to sustain in the long run, IDC says.
The Surface RT and RT platform in general may be a challenge to sustain in the long run, IDC says. Microsoft

But, would that make Surface RT a success? "I think it's safe to say that Surface RT didn't light the world on fire. It's a hard product to explain to a consumer [because of its lack of compatibility with older Windows applications]. I don't think it has been materially successful."

Mainelli is also skeptical about the Windows RT platform in general. "I think there are a lot of doubts around RT. A lot [RT] vendors wanted to believe and wanted to support Microsoft. But a few dropped off. And now we have Samsung saying they're going to hold off too."

And he has doubts about Microsoft's decision to go with three separate platforms.

"Android scaled from smartphones to tablets. Apple scaled iOS from smartphones to tablets. But Microsoft decided to have a smartphone OS, then have Windows RT and Windows 8. I think the distinctions get lost on folks. I think they might be better served by putting more muscle behind Windows 8. Try to make that successful rather than trying to do three OSes."

Surface Pro is more promising, according to Mainelli. "I think the Pro is more interesting," he said -- despite its higher price and shorter battery life -- because consumers understand the value inherent in Windows 8.

Later this year, battery life for thin-and-light Windows 8 products like the Pro should improve with Intel's Haswell processor. And power-efficient Atom-based tablets (which are also fully compatible with Windows 7) should get a decent performance boost when an overhauled "Bay Trail" chip debuts in devices this holiday season.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.


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