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According to an online ad, from July 14 to July 20 Staples will offer the 32-GB Surface RT for $349, down from its normal list price of $499. It's not clear if the discount also extends to the 64-GB version.
A Touch Cover keyboard will still add an additional $100 to the cost. Preinstalled Microsoft Office software is one of the Surface RT's chief appeals, so the accessory will be mandatory for many users.
The sale follows earlier rumors that Microsoft intends across-the-board $150 discounts on all its Surface RT products. So far, the company has not confirmed this plan. As such, it's uncertain whether other big box retailers, such as Best Buy, will match the discounted price, or whether the new prices are temporary, or, as the rumors suggested, permanent.
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The price reductions arrive only days after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer reorganized the company. Ballmer hopes the new structure will lead to better collaboration among the company's many business units, and to a more cohesive Windows ecosystem. But for that ecosystem to materialize, the company needs more users to adopt the products at the heart of it all -- Windows 8 and Windows RT.
The Surface RT's access to Office is an asset that both iOS and Android tablets lack. But Microsoft's tablet has also been plagued by a dearth of quality mobile apps and mixed feelings about the Live Tile-based Modern UI. The included Office software has also received mixed marks, due to the flimsy Touch Cover keyboard, relatively small screen and limited viewing angles.
Because the Surface RT launched at a premium price point, in other words, many would-be buyers decided it asked too much while offering too little. A $150 discount, if permanent, could change that.
Still, a $150 drop might not be persuasive enough to cause an uptick in WinRT adoption. At $349, the Surface RT is more expensive than a variety of competing options, including numerous Android tablets and the iPad Mini. It's also in the same range as the Acer Iconia W3, an 8-inch tablet that runs the full version of Windows 8. This means that the Iconia, unlike the Surface RT, can run the full catalog of legacy Windows applications.
Given that the iPad Mini and Iconia W3 both offer richer software experiences for around the same cost, a $349 Surface RT doesn't become price-competitive so much as emphasize how unappealing the original price was.
At TechEd, attendees waited in line for hours to buy the 64-GB Surface RT for $100, and Microsoft is also offering the device to educators for $200. On the wider market, such meager prices might seem desperate. Then again, it's only at prices this low that the Surface RT has generated excitement.
Windows RT 8.1's enhancements could give Surface RT a boost. Notably, the OS upgrade will add Microsoft Outlook support, which could improve its adoption in the enterprise. Still, Win 8.1 is many months away, and at WPC, Microsoft hinted that new Surface models are imminent. According to rumors, the new options will include an RT model that features Qualcomm's impressive Snapdragon 800 chip and integrated LTE support.
Due to these future products, the discounts likely will have little effect on businesses; if they're intrigued by Windows RT, the appeal is more likely to involve what's coming than what's already available. If the reductions drive sales, consumers will be the reason.
Windows RT's lowly market share suggests that Microsoft has plenty of inventory sitting around. As such, the company's best chance at consumer attention could be a "lose on the razor, profit on the blades" approach.
Microsoft has margins to consider -- but there's no profit in unpurchased devices. If the price drops lower, Microsoft might take an upfront hit, but if doing so seeds the Windows 8 universe with more users, the effort could be worthwhile. More users means a bigger built-in audience for Windows 8.1 and future Surface models, as well as more incentive for developers to build Modern UI apps.
For now, though, people who've delayed a Surface RT purchase are being rewarded for their patience.