Did Ballmer leave the door ajar for Windows Phone 7 tablet?

Reading the tea leaves, it sure sounds like Microsoft is at least open to a Windows Phone 7 powered tablet. That's a move that would make a lot of sense.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Perhaps Microsoft isn't so stubborn about Windows 7 tablets after all. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer may have just left himself an out to pave the way for a Windows Phone 7 tablet. The official line is that Microsoft will not offer a Windows Phone 7 tablet.


Credit: Stephen Pritchard

Ballmer, speaking at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando, was set up for a rough keynote from the beginning. A video of tech exec questions all asked whether Microsoft could compete with Apple on the iPad and iPhone. Gartner analyst John Pescatore noted that "no one is lining up in the snow to get that hot new Windows phone and there's no hit movie about SharePoint."

Gartner set up the interview as a consumer/enterprise dueling banjos sort of thing. The big topic was Windows Phone 7 whether it could appeal to both the business and consumer markets. Naturally tablets came up. When asked about whether there would be a Windows Phone 7 tablet instead of a Windows 7 slate, Ballmer held up a WP7 phone and said:

"This is Windows too. Could be this Windows or another Windows. There are technical details I'm not getting into today. We get multiple experiences."

Microsoft has officially said that there will be no Windows Phone 7 tablet. Indeed, Ballmer could have been referring to Windows embedded and Windows 7 on tablets. However, Ballmer seemed to indicate that Windows Phone 7 would be a possibility---or at least that experience. The Gartner analysts had noted they wanted the Windows Phone 7 experience on a tablet.

Reading the tea leaves, it sure sounds like Microsoft is at least open to a Windows Phone 7 powered tablet. That's a move that would make a lot of sense. Windows Phone 7 appears to be much more suited to tablet use. And if Microsoft can leverage its PowerPoint franchise, a WP7 tablet could be a winner. Instead, Microsoft seems to be force-feeding Windows 7 on the tablet form factor.

Ballmer was cagey throughout the interview about tablets, which were a big focus at the Gartner conference. On Windows tablet availability, Ballmer said:

"I'm not giving any specifics today at the Gartner conference. If you push me too hard I may do it tomorrow at a Forrester conference. There will be some by the holiday season. You'll continue to see an evolution of devices over the next several months. As get new OakTrail processor from Intel, you'll see form factors take off. The key is long battery life and "we need help with both the hardware and software."

The conversation about Windows Phone 7 continued. "With Windows Phone 7 we expect minimal level of hardware capability. You'll get a diversity of phones," said Ballmer.

Ballmer was then asked about how Windows Phone 7 would be judged. Ballmer seemed to indicate that patience would be a virtue and sales wouldn't be the big focus per se. However, he did quip at the end of his talk that he'd love 40 percent to 50 percent market share. Here's what Ballmer wants Windows Phone 7 to be a year from now:

  • An option for consumers. Consumers will think about Windows Phone 7 devices.
  • A platform with a growing app market.
  • Something that has a clear market response.
  • Things will be coherent. Ballmer said he agreed with Apple Steve Jobs' take that Android was incoherent. Ballmer didn't mention Jobs by name, but it was clear who he was talking about.

In other words, Microsoft is planning for the long haul with WP7. Other nuggets from the keynote.

  • Ballmer was asked to address Windows Phone 7. The enterprise wants Bitlocker and systems management. The consumer wants a fashion statement. How will Microsoft meet both demands. Ballmer said the question was "weird." But said "we are better equipped to delight the consumer and give the enterprise what it wants. We're going to do both." The Windows Phone 7 experience is wonderful and consistency will be key. "We have a lot of work to do to get back in the game deliberately," said Ballmer.
  • Does deliberately mean slow? Ballmer said that consumer fads don't come every year. "Fast being early is important. Improvements are super important. Do I wish we shipped Windows Phone 7 a year earlier? Of course, I do," said Ballmer. But Ballmer said that Microsoft is on the right path.
  • On the next generation of Windows 7, Ballmer said the PC will continue to evolve. "People are going to use the exciting devices that help them get the job done and in their personal lives," he said. The PC market isn't dead, Ballmer said.
  • "Statistically, the PC has gained share. Windows PC have gained share. Does that mean that people are not confronting Macs and iPads into work. Having to deal with that is important part of your job and our job. We've moved to that direction (of supporting multiple devices)."
  • Regarding the cloud transition, Ballmer said there is tension regarding moving to the cloud. "The answer here is good architecture. Extensible that allows for dynamic work. Migrate to bulk of work that goes on in the enterprise. We're deliberately thinking through Office 365 and big bang releases and updates with a more regular cadence," said Ballmer.
  • Ballmer punked Gartner over a question about the BPOS to Office 365 transition. Ballmer said: "BPOS was a name. BPOS wasn't the best marketing name Microsoft has ever done."
  • Should Microsoft break up its consumer-enterprise business? Ballmer panned a Goldman Sachs idea to spin-out the consumer unit. Ballmer said Windows is Microsoft's biggest consumer product. "When people say nutty things like Goldman you ask what part of Windows would you like to spin out? There is no rationale. The reuse of technology across the consumer and enterprise is the way forward," said Ballmer.  He added that Linux and Android is reused for both markets with the same code base---just like Windows.  The idea that Microsoft should spin out a consumer business "is next to crazy." "It's next to the craziest discussion I've ever had." People will ask for what they buy with their own money at work. "Cool starts at home," said Ballmer.
  • Riskiest product bet by Microsoft: Next release of Windows.
  • Privacy in the cloud? "Achievable," said Ballmer. "People are going to insist on privacy in the cloud."
  • Next big hit from Microsoft? Windows Phone 7 will be $1 billion plus, said Ballmer.
  • Biggest gee-whiz Microsoft product is Xbox Kinect.
  • What's the lead strategy? Silverlight, HTML 5 or buying Adobe? "The world is going HTML5," said Ballmer. "The world is pushing toward HTML5." Silverlight will be for client apps on mobile, PCs and cross platform. "We're dedicated to Silverlight with a little different concept."
  • The cloud is the biggest thing in 2011 for the enterprise. "We're all in," said Microsoft. "And we're hearing you're all in. The market is moving very quickly."
  • Ray Ozzie's departure won't change Microsoft's cloud vision. "That vision is our company strategy," said Ballmer.
  • On Microsoft's CEO succession plan, Ballmer said "I have plenty of energy." "You have to be resilient. If I ever thought the company would be better off without me I'd leave that day," he said.

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