Samsung has decided not to launch Windows RT tablets in the U.S. The move by the major mobile device maker is another blow to Microsoft's ARM-based operating system Relevant Products/Services, which is trying to gain a foothold in the fast-moving category.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, the Samsung executive in charge of PCs and tablets for the U.S. indicated that the decision by the South Korea-based company was based on weak demand. Mike Abary told news media that such a launch would require "a lot of heaving lifting," because of the need to educate consumers about the differences between Windows RT, which does not run Windows legacy apps, and Windows 8, which does.

Not the Right Time

In December, the head of Dell's PC business Relevant Products/Services said he had recommended to Microsoft that it not use the Windows brand for the RT/ARM devices, because of this legacy apps issue. Microsoft has targeted RT tablets at consumers, and Windows 8 tablets at businesses.

Abary also said that Samsung would have difficulties in hitting the lower price point it believed that RT devices should have. He added that the company was not making a permanent decision, but decided that now "might not be the right time." Samsung has developed an RT tablet, called the Ativ Tab, and could still decide to release it in other markets. Toshiba and HP have already withdrawn their plans for an RT tablet.

The consumer confusion issue is potentially a showstopper. In addition to understanding that a Windows RT machine would not run Windows apps, the buyer would also need to understand that the device offers two interfaces, touch and a traditional Windows desktop, the latter which needs a keyboard and mouse or touchpad.

Troubling Stories

Dell, Asus, Lenovo and Microsoft itself have brought RT tablets to market. Acer is expected to bring one out before the second quarter.

Charles King, an analyst with industry research firm Pund-IT Relevant Products/Services, said was "too early to call RT a failure, as some people have positioned it." But, he added, it's appropriate to describe RT as being "in trouble."

King told us he had heard that more than one retailer had "troubling stories of a significant number of consumers who bought a RT tablet and returned it a few days later when they realized it wouldn't support legacy apps." Microsoft has relaxed its return policy for RT tablets, primarily because of that issue.

He added that the decision by Samsung, as "one of the biggest and most successful vendors," is a setback for RT.

Same Position

Ross Rubin, principal analyst for Reticle Research, said that, without legacy apps, RT "has had to start in the same position" as, say, Hewlett-Packard's failed webOS-based TouchPad tablet.

Pricing has also been an issue, he noted, since RT tablets' have been priced as much as the starting iPad, and, to be productive with the included RT-version of Office, a customer Relevant Products/Services would need to spend another $150 to $200 on keyboard and mouse.

Rubin agreed with King that "it's early" to judge RT's success. Rubin suggested that Windows 8 could gain strength, leading to more apps designed for what had been known as the Metro interface and which can run on RT tablets as well.