Goodbye Surface RT: Back to the Drawing Board

Microsoft’s Surface event on May 20th, 2014 outlined the future for the Surface tablet and unfortunately the Windows RT-based Surface does not seem to be in their plans moving forward.  For schools and educators who were looking to the Surface RT tablet as a versatile yet affordable tool to support learning, it seems time is running out for this struggling tablet.  Looking back, it can be argued that there were several signs signalling the demise of the Surface RT and Surface 2 (the 2nd generation of the Surface RT).

A screen capture of the Windows app store

Although you can most of the big name apps that most of us have to rely upon in our office and classroom, there are still some notable apps that are absent from the Windows store.

APPS

There are many critical apps that are still missing from the Windows Store.  In my experience, the lack of a Google Drive application presents a significant challenge in trying to tie in the Surface RT with a learning environment that encourages BYOD where Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is being used to bring together a wide variety of operating systems and platforms.  Furthermore, some of the essential apps that are currently available for the Surface RT have been prone to bugs and glitches.  Most notably, the Evernote Touch app was rendered useless for many Surface RT users who reported persistent issues of the app crashing upon start up.  To make matters worse, it was the slow response of Evernote to update their app that certainly reinforced the notion that the RT platform was not on front burner for many developers.  Understandably, these issues cannot be pinned to Microsoft directly but it ultimately impacts user experience and the functionality of the Surface RT in the classroom.

SUBSTANTIAL DISCOUNTS

Although the attractive educational pricing for Surface RT grabbed the attention of many schools and districts, it can be argued that it was a harbinger of bigger problems for the device and platform.  Now faced with the demise of the Windows RT platform, school districts that took advantage of the educational pricing for the Surface RT (and to a lesser extent the Surface 2) are now left with the task of making the most of a technology that looks to have run its course.

MICROSOFT WORD, EXCEL, POWERPOINT and for iOS and ANDROID

One of the defining features of the Surface RT and Surface 2 tablet was the inclusion of the Office 2013 RT productivity suite.  At the time, the RT version of Microsoft Office was the only mobile, touch-friendly offering of this popular software.  However with the release of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications for the iPad (with Android versions coming soon) it now takes one of the redeeming features of the Surface RT tablet off the table.  More importantly, it suggests a shift in Microsoft’s approach and leverage with its coveted productivity suite.  Rather than use Microsoft Office to attract new users to Windows devices, their approach appears to leverage the software in an attempt to permeate into other hardware platforms.  As noted by ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, this move by Microsoft is about market share.

NO SURFACE MINI

As mentioned above, Microsoft’s Surface event on May 20th set the stage for the future of the Surface tablet and it was the notable no-show of the rumoured Surface Mini tablet that signals the end of the Surface RT tablet and most likely the Windows RT platform as well.  Speculation around the Surface Mini tablet described a 7″-8″ tablet running Windows RT but in what looks to be a last minute decision, Microsoft opted to shelve the latest version of an RT-based tablet.  Paul Thurrott suggests that the impact of a quickly changing tablet market and the resistance on the part of some Windows users towards the new user interface of Windows 8 has helped hinder the push for new Windows Surface RT tablets.

When you add it up, it does not look good for Windows RT-based Surface tablets moving forward.  Although the speed and volatility surrounding technological change and advancements is unavoidable, for school boards and districts working with limited resources and funding it is still a tough pill to swallow.  Looking towards the positive, perhaps the move to bring Microsoft products and services across different platforms and hardware is a hopeful change that will be of better value and use to the learner than the introduction of a new Surface tablet.

K. Takahashi

Author: K. Takahashi

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