In a meeting with analysts yesterday, Ballmer spent a fair amount of time talking about Apple's iPad and trying to explain why there are no Microsoft-based devices that remotely compare to it.
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Fortune's Philip Elmer-Dewitt distills the Ballmer discussion of the iPad into 11 words: "We'll talk about slates and tablets and blah, blah, blah, blah." (Apparently, Ballmer is also adopting the Steve Jobs 11-word rule.)
The "blah blah blah" part included a) an admission that the iPad has sold "more than I'd like them to sell," b) "we're coming full guns" to the slate market, and c) they'll be "coming when they're ready" -- so don't bother camping in line outside any Microsoft stores just yet. (Greg Packer, this means you.)
Meanwhile, the one Windows-based slate Ballmer could dig up to demo at last January's CES -- and got virtually heckled off the stage by the blogosphere afterward -- may end up not being a Windows device after all. Now that HP has gobbled up Palm, its Slate PC may run Palm's WebOS, a much more attractive tablet interface than Windows 7. Given how badly HP got jobbed by Microsoft during the whole "Vista ready" labeling debacle, I imagine this would be sweet revenge.
So, once again, Microsoft finds itself in the position of needing to imitate Apple to stay relevant.