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Words, Words, Words: Ballmer Says Tablets are Job One Urgency



Steve Ballmer was performing during a financial analyst’s meeting and began talking about Microsoft and Tablets by saying “We’ll talk about slates and tablets and blah, blah, blah, blah.” Much of what else he said about Microsoft’s and Tablets is functionally the equivalent of blah, blah, blah. We’ve heard it all before and at the moment, (stressing at the moment,) it is all words, words, words. Yes, Tablets will be introduced with Windows 7 as the OS, they will be released when they are good and ready, and Microsoft says it is going full guns.

Ballmer did say things will change when Intel’s lower powered Oak Trail processors are released next year. Perhaps that’s a hint as to why 2010 will pass by with much fewer releases than everyone thought back in January. But, he also seemed to bemoan the waiting game saying that Apple had sold more than he would have liked them to sell, and he’s not alone there, I’m sure. To be fair, no one else has anything else by words in this game yet either beyond Apple. There’s lots of talk, lots of promise, and lots of… words.

Here’s a link to the transcript of the Tablet section of the call. Ina Fried also has some reporting on this.



  1. GTaylor

    07/30/2010 at 5:54 am

    The more of those tablettes that sell the better. It will make the difference more obvious when someone brings out a modern slate with a detachable keyboard. When I’m out in public with my old M1400 the main thing that people say is “It’s a real computer!” They often remark that they don’t care for touch if they could have one that does “that!”, referring to the STYLUS action. I get particular satisfaction from getting the skeptics of the slate to pick up the pen and use it as a pointing device. They invariably remark that it is easier and more precise than the mouse. Only when they are won over do I give them their reward; we play Pool For Tablet PC. The tablette can’t touch that.
    If this was available from a company with better service than Motion I’d love to update this old clunker.

    • Dan

      07/30/2010 at 6:34 am

      I agree with you. The iPad has done one thing for sure…bring the form factor into the general public’s vision. Time for a real machine now.

      I must say, however, that I am sick and tired of people asking ‘oh, is that an iPad?’ I say ‘no, this is a real computer.’

      My 2730P used to get a lot of attention and then it sort of dropped to the wayside as it looks like any other laptop. However, my Motion LS800 is salivated over by tech knowledgable teens to seniors who like that I can write on it instead of typing/using a mouse.

      Apple has opened the public’s eyes to a new form factor, now it is time for a TabletPC release to put some real substance into the form and make it a usable tool instead of just being an entertainment center!

      One word of caution, however, if the TabletPC’s with Win 7 miss the mark and tick people off, that may be an irreversable blunder. A flawless execution targeted at picking people up on the iPad disappointment rebound could be a huge boom for manufacturers and MS. Targeting the same ‘entertainment system’ as the iPad would be a total bust…IMHO!


      • GTaylor

        07/30/2010 at 6:51 am

        You said it Dan, substance and execution are exactly the right principles. And it’s not like there is a narrow box in which to pitch.
        A small hand held device, not phone dependent, a carry-able device with good battery life in both light and less light configurations (optional keyboard), a semi portable/semi stationary device with full features are all fields that are wide open for development.
        A good productivity device can still bring multimedia to the tablet, but a media-centric device keeps the customer in the manufacturer-centric and dependent position.

    • Mickey Segal

      07/30/2010 at 8:58 am

      In the months before the iPad came out I took my Motion LS800 into an Apple store. The “Geniuses” thought it was fabulous. I’d like to see Apple release an open computer in the iPad form factor and see how many people would prefer the open form and how many would prefer the closed form.

      I don’t think Microsoft should wait around for hardware to get into thin slates. Maybe they are just working on a low power consumption version of Windows 7 and waiting until that is ready. The ideal would be to use Windows 7 in fast mode while docked and in low power mode when portable. That would make people reassess whether an iPad that needs to be synced to a real computer is what they want.

  2. aftermath

    07/30/2010 at 7:40 am

    As one of the resident and unapologetic free and open computing guys around here, I’m going to take up the awkward task of defending Balmer. Like you, I’ve been using Microsoft Tablet PCs for business for years (for me, it’s been more begrudging). Just about every criticism that you’ve made over the years about Microsoft and their promotion and handling of tablet computing, I’ve agreed with. They’ve squandered some big opportunities, but the point of this meeting (does anything else happen at meetings *besides* talk?) was not to address our shared concerns. This was a financial analysts meeting. He was answering questions, and this is the way you do it when you’re the CEO of a huge company. He was telling people what he thinks they want to hear.

    Sure, it would have been accurate for him to say that most UMPCs were touchscreen slates running full Windows operating systems. It would have been accurate for him to say that most PDA were touchscreen slates running Windows embedded operating systems. It would have been accurate for him to say that Apple jumping into the market with an ARM-based touchscreen slate running an operating system developed for mobiles phones represented a good 10 years late to the game on Apple’s part. It would have been accurate for him to say that you throw certain brand badges on anything and many people will just buy it. It would have been accurate for him to say that large touchscreen slates with both full Windows and Windows embedded have been available for years before the iPad and are still available now. It would have been accurate for him to say that most people prefer netbooks to touchscreen slates. Of course, all of this merely represents things that are true and verifiable from simple observations of the past, but none of that is useful in this context.

    The thing is that he wasn’t trying to be accurate. He was answering financial analysts’ questions. They’re not trying to analyze the past or present. They’re trying to analyze the future. Do you remember how many “just words” were hurled all over the place, often here at GBM, before the iPad was released? Talk about “blah, blah, blah”. This is what you do to hype the future: words. You didn’t hear Apple bragging about the eMate 300 and Newton when they were hyping their forthcoming embedded OS devices like the iPhone and iPad. It’s never the right approach to defensively gesticulate at your past when trying to build financial forecasters’ expectations for your future. That type of behavior worries financial analysts because suddenly you’re no longer talking about the future, and they’ll assume that it’s because you don’t have a vision or plan for one.

    I have two things to add to what you said. First, Apple is not Microsoft’s main competitor right now. Google is. Android is Microsoft’s biggest competitor in the consumer touchscreen slate segment. Android has a very similar vendor lifecycle to Windows mobile, and Microsoft should be concerned that it’s becoming popular with consumers. Many devices can ship with either Android or Windows or both. Talk about competition. Apple has a different business model, and despite pretenses to the contrary Apple and Microsoft are not direct competitors in the consumer touchscreen slate market. That said, there’s a lot of evidence that consumers are rejecting touchscreen slates in general. More importantly, Apple flat out can’t compete (because it doesn’t) in the non-embedded tablet market. How many Mac OS X tablets are there? This isn’t something that Apple can even talk about, and this is something that Microsoft has already delivered on in huge volumes. Apple and Microsoft are going to co-exist for a long time because there’s so little legitimate overlap between them. Second, I’ve read other coverage of this, more aligned to business and finance, and the reception of these comments has been generally positive. Microsoft’s greatest strength is Apple’s greatest weakness: serving business. Microsoft has been working hard to facilitate adoption of netbooks in business, and their tablet strategy, with the emphasis on including productivity with consumption, is aligned accordingly. If Microsoft can deliver a business friendly touchscreen slate, or something better like a full tablet, that’s cheap and has good stamina (which is why they’re waiting on Intel), then they’ll have a big win on their hands in terms of the enormous business market. Microsoft will ALWAYS prefer to deliver computing experiences that help you make money while sitting at your desk in your office than ones that help you make… something else… while sitting on the toilet in the bathroom. I think most analysts will be OK if Microsoft just leaves the “stall surfer” touchscreen slate to another company.

    • Dan

      07/30/2010 at 9:24 am

      I love that title, “stall surfer”…kudos!


    • Warner Crocker

      07/31/2010 at 9:04 am

      I love stall surfing with a Tablet PC. Always did. Always will. Love stall surfing with an iPad as well. I think Android will be a competitor but we’ll have to wait and see when the products actually ship. Same for Microsoft. Talk and hype are talk and hype nothing more. Put some products on the shelf, whether or not those shelves are in your office or the bathroom.

  3. Mike

    07/30/2010 at 9:32 am

    Yes – tablets are super important.
    They are so on the ball that they killed courier – which had more hype and anticipation than any microsoft product I can recall.

  4. GTX

    07/31/2010 at 10:00 am

    … I’m not sure Microsoft really has any idea how to run a company anymore.

  5. Sheila

    08/02/2010 at 6:39 am

    I will more than likely get an Android tablet from Dell (Looking Glass Pro), Motorola, or Samsung.

    What I want in a tablet is:
    1. Full internet access
    2. Exchange support
    3. Light to moderate productivity work
    4. Good battery life (10 to 12 hours)
    5. The basic stuff (WiFi, 3g/4g, USB ports, microSD, Bluetooth)
    6. Light weight (around 1 lbs, 1.5 lbs is the limit)
    7. Need to fit into an average size purse.

    What keeps me looking at a Windows 7 touch tablet is #3 – Light to moderate productivity work. On any tabelet I get I like to be able to use Microsoft’s Office Web Applications and have access to my Skydrive.

    The biggest reason I have for not getting a Windows 7 touch tablet is the battery life and the weight of device.

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