Shoppers who tried to buy a Windows RT tablet at Dell's website Friday morning would have seen one listed for US$299. By the end of the day the cheapest tablet came bundled with a keyboard for $479.
Dell made several changes to the RT offers on its website. By Friday evening it had eliminated all the options for a standalone tablet and now only sells the product, called the XPS 10, bundled with a keyboard.
In some ways it bucks a recent trend. Dell has been lowering prices for its Windows RT tablet since May, after the company admitted it was selling poorly. When it was introduced last October, the XPS 10 was priced at $499, and it had dropped to $299 in May.
Dell is apparently trying to up-sell customers to breathe a bit of life into its XPS 10 business after poor sales, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates
Selling the tablet bundled with a keyboard suggests Dell views it as a device for creating content rather than just consuming it, perhaps because Windows RT is designed to provide some "laptop-like" capabilities, Kay said.
"It seems like the direction they are going in. It's a better idea if it's a bundle," he said.
Earlier Friday, a tablet with 32GB of storage priced at $299 was listed as "out of stock." IDG News Service inquired about the product to see if it was still on sale, and shortly afterward, the listing disappeared from the site. Later in the day, a standalone XPS 10 with 64GB of storage also disappeared.
Dell never replied to requests for comment about the changes.
The only models listed on the site by late Friday came bundled with keyboards. And, somewhat confusingly, the bundles with the 32GB and 64GB tablets were listed for the same price -- $479. That's apparently because the 64GB device comes with a steeper discount offer.
There's also an LTE version of the 64GB XPS 10 listed on the site, priced at $579 with a keyboard.
Apart from the storage and connectivity, the other tablet features are the same. They all have a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor and a 10.1-inch screen that displays images at 1366 x 768 resolution. Windows RT is Microsoft's version of Windows 8 for ARM processors like the Snapdragon.
Keyboards are expensive as an accessory and can be more profitable for Dell than the tablet itself, and Dell could use all the financial help it can get right now, Kay said. On Thursday, it reported quarterly profits that were down 72 percent.
Bundling the tablets and keyboards together could also be Dell's way of clearing out its XPS 10 tablets and accessories, he said, though it was unclear if that was Dell's goal.
The price changes come at a time when other vendors are distancing themselves from Windows RT. Lenovo has stopped selling the Yoga 11 through its website, Asus has said it was moving away from the development of RT tablets after the failure of its VivoTab RT. Microsoft dropped the price of its Surface RT tablet last month from $499 to $349.
Microsoft plans to announce the successor, Windows 8.1 RT, on Oct. 17. Dell has said it is committed to Windows RT, and the OS got another potential boost with reports on Friday that Nokia will release an RT tablet, though analysts called the idea "bizarre."
Dell will likely not abandon Windows RT because it has a close relationship with Microsoft, Kay said.