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Windows RT demand is weaker than hoped, Dell exec says

Neil Hand, an executive who oversees Dell's tablet business, says the company remains committed to Windows RT and is continuing work on future devices.

The Dell XPS 10 runs Windows RT.
James Martin/CNET
Microsoft had grand ambitions for its Windows RT operating system, but more signs are pointing to trouble.

A Dell executive today said demand for the company's first Windows RT device, the XPS 10, has been weaker than hoped, largely because consumers still don't really know what the operating system is or what it can do.

"Demand is not where I would like it to be at this point in time," Neil Hand, head of Dell's tablet and high-end PC business, told CNET. "The amount of market information about it is not good enough, and the market sentiment is still pretty negative."

In addition, Hand noted the overall Windows app experience, while improving of late, "has not been as strong as it needed to be" over the first six months the operating system has been on the market.

The comments from Hand echo what many others in the industry have said about Windows RT, the first version of Microsoft's operating system to work on ARM-based chips like those from Nvidia and Qualcomm. The software was created to help Windows expand into tablets more easily, but Windows RT has stumbled since its release. There haven't been as many devices released as hoped, and those introduced are thought to have weak sales.

Nvidia Chief Executive Jen-Hsun Huang last month said sales of Windows RT devices have been disappointing so far, and Samsung scrapped its plans to release its Windows RT device in the U.S. and other regions. Others have questioned the viability of the software.

Dell is having more success selling its device directly to consumers than offering it through retailers, Hand said today. That's because the computer giant can explain the benefits of Windows RT to buyers rather than rely on retailers to do so.

He said that the return rate for the XPS 10 is "comparable to what we would have expected in any new product category, versus some of the numbers that have been reported out there that are really bad."

"If you go off and manage the communication, [the consumer response to Windows RT] is actually really good," he added.

Many technology companies have struggled with how best to sell their products, whether it involves relying on retailers or even setting up their own stores. Samsung recently reached a deal to set up minishops inside all Best Buys to better showcase its mobile products to consumers. Microsoft, meanwhile, has opened its own standalone stores.

Dell is working closely with Microsoft and retail partners to educate buyers about Windows RT and build marketing campaigns that "are less about the sizzle and more about the specifics," Hand said.

Dell remains committed to pushing Windows RT and the XPS 10, Hand said, and the company hasn't changed its plans to develop future Windows RT-based devices. In addition, Dell has no plans to release Android-based devices, Hand said, and the company also won't be making mobile phones but will target the market through software and services.

The Dell XPS 10 can convert between a tablet or a laptop. James Martin/CNET

"I have not slowed down my development activities on both Windows RT and next-generation Windows 8 tablets," Hand said.

He declined to provide specific details about sales figures, return rates, or future products.

Being successful in tablets is key for Dell and other traditional PC makers. The computing market has been very weak of late while mobile devices soar. Tech research firms Gartner and IDC last week said first-quarter PC shipments posted an ugly slumpin the first three months of the year, the worst since IDC started tracking the figures in 1994. And the overall computer market should fall this year. Tablet sales, meanwhile, should climb 28 percent this year,ABI Research said last week.

Gartner and IDC both partially blamed Microsoft for the weakness in the PC market.

A Microsoft spokeswoman today reiterated the company's previous statement that the "PC market is evolving and highly dynamic" and that it's working with partners to "bring even more innovation to market across tablets and PCs."

Hand, meanwhile, said the "PC market is still huge and is not going away. There's still a huge opportunity for everybody to grow."