"The system is rife with powerful touch gestures, but none of them are immediately obvious if you pick up the tablet without any training," PCWorld editor Jon Phillips wrote. "...What about the gesture that brings up the snap screen for side-by-side multitasking? Or the gesture that lets you cycle through open apps with a finger swipe? Or the gesture that produces all your Favorites in Internet Explorer? These and other touch controls aren't self-evident."
It doesn't take long to tackle the learning curve, and the modern UI is easy and engaging once you acclimate to it, but iSuppli's estimates suggest that many buyers simply aren't willing to invest the time it takes to learn Windows RT's interface.
The problem is likely compounded by consumer confusion about Windows RT's capabilities. While Microsoft's advertising campaign has been successful in getting the Surface RT name out there, it has been less successful in explaining the differences between Windows RT and Windows 8. Windows RT can't run traditional desktop software, only the Windows 8 apps found in Microsoft's Windows Store marketplace. When a Samsung spokesman told CNET that the company wouldn't launch its Ativ Tab in the United States, he cited poor consumer education about Windows RT as one of the primary reasons why.
Mix a confusing interface with a neutered operating system, add a dash of ignorance about that operating system's inherent limitations, and you've got a recipe for high returns. Worse, all of those flaws are inherent to every Windows RT tablet--not just the Surface.
Given that, it comes as no surprise to hear Alexander say computer manufacturers are showing a "distinct lack of interest" in building Windows RT devices. HP, Toshiba, and Acer have already canceled or heavily delayed plans for Windows RT tablets. IHS iSuppli estimates that more than 500,000 Surface RTs sit unsold and collecting dust in stockrooms, and Alexander believes production of the tablet has been suspended until that inventory clears.
The impending February 9 launch of Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet--which sports an Intel Core i5 processor and the full-fledged version of Windows 8--could shine more light on whether it's the modern UI interface or Windows RT's inherent limitations that are driving the alleged run up of Surface RT returns. Regardless of the reason, and regardless of even whether or not IHS iSuppli's return rate estimate is exaggerated, one thing is already clear: Windows RT is teetering on the brink of disaster.