Nick Bilton of the New York Times writes:
Today’s consumers don’t want options. They are impatient. They want to tear their new shiny gadget from the box and immediately start using it. They don’t have time to think about SD cards or USB drives or pens or flip stands.
The surface RT didn’t allow that. Customers had to think about it.
The Surface RT had a lot of things that didn't bode well for it. For one the name. The other was Windows RT, which I think is an even better example of what Nick Bilton is describing as far as options go.
I don't think the Surface's hardware ever really got in the way. An SD card slot or an available USB port don't really interfere with what someone will do with a tablet. The kickstand and keyboard accessories are sort of the Surface's cherry on top. The things that the Surface has on the hardware side are incentives. But I think Windows RT itself wasn't what customers were looking for in a tablet.
On top of good hardware is an operating system that's buggy and clumsy, getting in the way of the things people want to do. Windows RT is this cut down version of Windows that doesn't let you install traditional desktop applications and wasn't completely optimized for your fingers, and I think customers got fed up with this idea relatively quickly. I get what Microsoft is aiming for, the idea that you can have a tablet for both work and play that gives you a lot of choice in how you use it, but that point didn't come across in their marketing and Microsoft's implementation of it (like switching to the Desktop through a tile) ended up confusing people.
Microsoft said, "You can have the best of both worlds!" The result is a product that sends mixed messages about what it wants to do and what it's really capable of. Surface RT feels like a product that had to hit some arbitrary deadline, was then rushed onto store shelves, and it shows.
The Surface RT doesn't solve any pain points, which is the kicker. Things like the iPad take away a lot of the stuff that people don't like about computers. People use their iPads because it instantly turns on, has great battery life, and doesn't behave like a traditional computer. People generally don't have to worry about maintaining their iPads. You don't have to restart it to install updates every week, download the latest virus definitions, or run a cleaner to magically improve the computer's performance. It's a worry free device. The Surface RT was supposed to be Microsoft's answer to these things — a product that sheds all of the legacy components Windows held onto for so long that would make the computer safer and easier to use — but ultimately Microsoft decided people wanted their desktops on their tablets so they could use Office, forgetting that that's the thing people wanted to get away from. The irony is that the tablet that was supposed to offer more choice than the iPad ended being the compromised experience. That's why it failed.