How Microsoft Can Gain Ground with Both Tablets and Phones

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At Microsoft’s Financial Analysts Meeting yesterday, CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage to talk about the company’s consumer initiatives. The entire video of the presentation is available here. He spent a portion of the time talking about slates and tablets, saying the following:

“One of the top issues on my mind is, ‘Hey there’s a category that we’ve actually had Windows on for a long time.’ We’ve had Windows 7 on tablets and slate machines now for a number of years. And Apple’s done an interesting job of putting together a synthesis and putting a product out, in which they’ve—they’ve sold certainly more than I’d like them to sell. Let me just be clear about that.

We think about that. We think about that in a competitive sense. And for us, then, the job is to say, ‘Okay, we have a lot of IP, we’ve got a lot of good software in this area, we’ve done a lot of work on ink and touch and everything else. We have got to make things happen.’ Just like we had to make things happen on netbooks, we have to make things happen with Windows 7 on slates. And we’re in the process of doing that as we speak.

We’re working with our hardware partners. We’re tuning Windows 7 to new slate hardware designs they’re bringing to market. And, yeah, you’re going to get a lot of cacophony—there’ll be people who do things with other operating systems—but we’ve got the application base, we’ve got the user familiarity, we’ve got everything on our side if we do things really right.”

Ballmer spoke a bit about Intel’s upcoming Oak Trail platform, a low-power and tablet-friendly chipset due to hit the market early next year, saying Microsoft-based tablets and slates “will get a boost” when it becomes available. He then continued:

“So we think about these devices. I don’t really think there is one size that fits all. I don’t think everybody wants a slate. I’ve been to too many meetings with journalists who spend the first ten minutes of the meeting setting up their iPad to look like a laptop.

Laptops are actually well designed for a lot of things. I notice they’re all light. In fact, if you look around this room, they all weigh zero pounds because they’re just sitting on the table. You’re not holding them and you don’t set them up when you want to type. And they prop up. They have good attributes, but some people aren’t going to want that form factor.

Some people are going to want, probably, a screen that they take with them and maybe they throw it back into the keyboard. Some people are going to want a device that’s screen and keyboard spins around for inking purposes. Some people are going to want things very light or very cheap or very expensive or very powerful.

All of those things are going to be important. And we’ve got a push right now—right now—with our hardware partners. And some of you will say ‘When? When?’ and I’ll say, ‘As soon as they’re ready!’ They’ll be shipping as soon as they’re ready and it is Job One urgency around here. Nobody’s sleeping at the switch.”

Let’s dig into this a bit. Aside from the exaggerations that Microsoft has “had Windows 7 on tablets and slate machines now for a number of years” and the idea that it takes ten minutes to set up an iPad in a comfortable typing position, the key takeaway from Ballmer’s speech is when he says “we’ve got everything on our side if we do things really right.”

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