Windows RT will launch Oct. 26 alongside its sibling operating system Windows 8. Both Windows RT and Windows 8 will run on nearly identical looking hardware and be able to run applications downloaded from the new Microsoft Store. But there is one key difference between Windows RT and Windows 8. Windows RT can't run existing Microsoft Windows applications such as older versions of Microsoft Office and it won't support the same hardware as previous versions of Windows.
Despite the major limitations of Windows RT, Microsoft seems to be doing its best to downplay the differences. Employees in Microsoft's own official stores can't explain the difference and limitations of Windows RT versus Windows 8 and falsely claim that Windows RT can run Windows applications such as Steam games, according to The Verge. In fairness, Microsoft is undertaking a massive campaign to train its own sales people and those of other retailers, according to Monday's Wall Street Journal.
But for now, what I've seen with my own eyes says that retailers are blurring the lines between the products. Major online retailers are already trying to pass off Windows RT tablets as Windows 8 tablets. This is a customer relations train wreck waiting to happen.
Futureshop, for instance, advertises the Asus Vivo Tab RT in its Windows Tablets section which is headlined by a large Windows 8 logo and shows a Vivo Tab RT tablet displaying the Windows 8 logo. The Vivo Tab RT runs on an ARM processor and the Windows RT operating system. The product name does include "RT," but there are 11 words in that name, plus the model number, and customers could reasonably be confused.
Newegg also is advertising the Asus Vivo Tab RT in its Win 8 Tablets section. Under operating system specifications, Newegg reports that the Vivo Tab RT runs the "Windows 8 RT" operating system, merging the names of two operating systems. Other retailers are using the same nonexistent OS name. Shoppers might not know that the Acer W510 Windows 8 tablet is fully compatible with existing Windows applications and hardware peripherals, but the Asus Vivo Tab RT is not. They also aren't shown a $499 version of the Acer W510 with 32 GB of storage.
It is worth noting that many online retailers, including the Microsoft Store, don't use these confusing designations. Even so, the real OS names are confusing enough.
I've spent a lot of time pointing out that ARM-based tablets won't have a cost advantage or a battery life advantage. This is why I've argued that Microsoft's Surface RT tablet or any other Windows RT tablet is doomed to fail. Windows RT tablets have all the limitations and none of the commonly assumed advantages of ARM-based systems such as battery life and low cost. But most shoppers won't know the difference, especially if the Microsoft Store and other online retailers hide the limitations of Windows RT.
My prediction? A lot of customers won't get far enough to ever know their RT tablet has mediocre battery life. Once they find out it can't run their favorite apps and games, or use their old peripherals, they're going to bring these devices back to the store in droves.