Did Redmond drop the RT branding from its Surface tablet because of customer confusion? According to a Microsoft Surface manager, the answer is yes.
Product marketing manager Jack Cowett recently told an Australian news publication that there had been some confusion about the difference between Surface RT and Surface Pro. The new Surface RT model is now called Surface 2 in an attempt to lessen this buyer confusion. The new Windows 8.1 model of Surface is now called Surface Pro 2.
He said that the company wants to "make it easier for people, and these are two different products designed for two different people."
Is the Difference Professional?
Earlier this month, Microsoft reported that the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2 were “close to selling out,” although no figures were released as to how many units have been made or sold.
There have been numerous reports of consumer confusion about the Surface RT, given that it runs RT-specific applications, and does not run legacy Windows applications except a RT version of Microsoft Office. Surface Pro, on the other hand, runs Windows 8 and can handle legacy applications.
Even some store personnel were reportedly confused about the distinction. But, since Pro is now the only word separating the two products, a key question is whether buyers will be confused in another direction -- thinking that Surface Pro 2 is the Surface 2, but in a professional or business model.
Whether or not the new branding works, the Windows RT operating system does not have an optimistic future. The major computer manufacturers have abandoned the platform, leaving only Microsoft and possibly its new Nokia subsidiary to release more RT devices. Several computer makers, such as Asustek, have not been shy about voicing their displeasure with the RT platform or its branding.
Chairs on the Titanic
In July, the company revealed that both tablets in the product line had brought in only $853 million from their launch in October of last year to June. This was less than the $900 million write-down Microsoft has taken for unsold Surface RT tablets.
Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, told NewsFactor that the new name change was essentially rearranging “the chairs on the deck of the Titanic” because of the platform’s dim future.
He pointed out that the name Surface was itself somewhat confusing at first to Microsoft watchers, since it had been the name of the company’s touch-sensitive interactive table product. “That actually was a surface,” Kay said.
Having taken that name, he added, Microsoft then compounded the confusion by “splitting the operating system into two, but not really dividing them.” Kay noted that “clouding the brand equity” can have a variety of consequences, including introducing “a decision point for buyers, and possibly an off-ramp,” where they decide that they’re too confused and head for, say, Apple’s iPad.
When asked if Microsoft’s decision to choose the name Surface 2 was better or worse than Surface RT, Kay described it as “equally confusing.”