Microsoft: Yeah, The Surface RT’s Name Confused Consumers

In its new generation of tablet hybrid hardware, Microsoft renamed its lower-end, ARM-based Surface device, calling it the Surface 2. It kept its prior Surface Pro branding in place. Why ditch the original Surface RT name? As you expected, consumers didn’t get what it meant.

Speaking recently with ARN, an Australian publication, Jack Cowett – a Microsoft employee who works on Surface marketing – stated that there was “some confusion in the market last year on the difference between Surface RT and Surface Pro.” That’s correct.

To combat that issue, the Surface RT has been rebranded as the Surface 2. Frankly, I wonder why Microsoft didn’t just call it the Surface. There isn’t, so far as I can tell, any ‘connection’ between the phrases ‘Surface 2’ and ‘Surface Pro.’

It can be said that Surface 2 is a more consumer-friendly name that Surface RT, given that the public is very accustomed to sequentially numbered products (films, albums, etc). And, Microsoft had done reasonably well with its Surface Pro set of devices, meaning that it likely didn’t want to disturb a working brand. Calling the Surface 2 just the Surface would negate the RT entirely, which – as it continues to sell old Surface RT stock – might have been even more confusing.

As you can read between the above, the core confusion is that the Surface 2 depends on Office, and the Windows Store for all its applications, while the Surface Pro does not. You can’t bridge that gap in a name, I don’t think. So the tension will remain.

The Windows Store has improved, the core set of Windows applications has been extended, and Windows 8.1 brings with it an expanded set of Office products. Is that enough for the average consumers is the remaining ARM-based Surface question. And let’s be frank ,’RT’ was an ugly sounding creation.

Microsoft’s candor in this is nice – we knew that the Surface RT had branding issues, but it remains slightly refreshing to hear a company cop to past errors.

As Tom Warren of The Verge notes, Windows RT has been essentially abandoned by every OEM that isn’t Microsoft. This means that if Microsoft can’t make the Surface 2 work, Windows RT is essentially over. So the name change, and the new hardware come as package to save a large slice of Microsoft’s vision for what Windows should look like over the next half decade and beyond. Those are large stakes indeed.