While Microsoft had revealed that it was working on successors to both Surface RT and Surface Pro at an event last month, many felt that the firm would at least kill off its poorly selling Surface RT. But NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang says that’s not so, and that the two companies are working on a new Surface RT model we’ll call Surface RT 2.
“We're going to bring it with the second-generation Surface,” Huang told CNET in a recent interview. “We're working really hard on it, and we hope that it's going to be a big success.”
Related: "Windows RT Really Isn't So Bad"
NVIDIA provided the microprocessor for the current Surface RT, and a successor to that processor, the TEGRA 4, is widely expected to make an appearance in the Surface RT 2. That processor could also grace a planned but as-yet-unannounced Surface Mini, as well, though I expect that 8" device to sport Intel Atom “Bay Trail” internals, not an ARM chipset. Those systems run real Windows 8, not the ARM variant of the OS called Windows RT.
Problems with the original Surface RT—and Windows RT, generally—are, of course, legion. The performance is terrible, it suffers from meaningful compatibility issues with desktop Windows applications and hardware peripherals, and it arrived with a too-high launch price structure. These problems kept consumers away from Surface RT in droves, resulting in Microsoft taking an almost $1 billion write-off so that it could dump the remaining inventory of devices, accessories, and parts.
The TEGRA 4 could possibly alleviate the performance troubles, although it’s likely that Intel-based systems will continue to outperform the ARM-based Surface RT products for some time to come. And while Microsoft seems to have found the correct pricing structure with a recent $150 price cut across all Surface RT models, it’s unclear whether this will be temporary or will extend to the Surface RT 2. (A related and more recent $100 price cut on the Windows 8-based Surface Pro is equally mysterious in this regard.)
The release of Microsoft Outlook for Windows RT, Huang says, will somewhat ease the desktop application compatibility issue. (Outlook for Windows is being delivered as part of the Windows 8.1 update.) “It’s the killer app for Windows,” Huang says of Outlook. But Outlook is just one application, and Surface RT still can’t run key desktop applications like iTunes and Photoshop. Meanwhile, the “Metro” mobile app environment that is supported by both Windows RT and Windows 8 has yet to mature into a viable ecosystem.
Microsoft has a long history of pushing forward with unsuccessful products, but only to a point. It killed off efforts like Smart Displays, Ultra-Mobile PC, and Portable Media Center very quickly, but kept Zune and Windows Media Center in the market for several revisions each. Since Windows is so key to the firm’s future, many believe that Microsoft will float unsuccessful Windows RT and Surface RT products for years to come. But at some point, these products may prove to be too harmful to the Windows brand to survive.