Ballmer: Microsoft needs to challenge Apple's slate dominance

Microsoft's CEO said Apple has sold more slate PCs than he'd like and Microsoft has to 'make things happen'

Microsoft's chief executive on Thursday sought to address some common questions raised by analysts, but his answers may not have been exactly what they were looking for.

While Microsoft reported its highest-ever quarterly revenue last week, the company was also criticized for lacking a well-developed strategy for slate PCs, and for continuing to struggle with some of its consumer businesses.

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CEO Steve Ballmer spoke about those and other topics Thursday during Microsoft's annual financial analyst meeting at the company's headquarters in Redmond.

He broached the topic of slates by noting that Windows has been available on slates and tablets for years. While that's true, Apple, which has only just entered the market, has generated significant buzz and sales with its iPad.

"Apple has done an interesting job of putting together a product," Ballmer said, before admitting that "they've certainly sold more than I'd like them to sell."

"For us, the job is to say we have a lot of [intellectual property] and software and we've done a lot of work on ink and touch," he said. "We have got to make things happen. Just like we had to make things happen on netbooks, we have to with Windows 7 on slates. We're in the process of doing that as we speak."

He was not more specific, however. "We've got to push right now with our hardware partners. People will say, 'When?' I'll say, 'As soon as they are ready, and it is job-one urgency.' Nobody is sleeping at the switch," he said.

When pushed for more details during a question-and-answer period, Ballmer would only say that new slates will be out in "not a heck of a long time."

Ballmer hinted that some devices that have been promised in the slate category might not materialize. He promoted an HP slate earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show but Microsoft has said little about it since, and some observers wonder about HP's commitment to the device since it purchased Palm.

HP listed a Windows-based slate device on its website recently, but it's unclear if the company still plans to sell the product. HP has said that it wants to use Palm's WebOS on tablet computers.

"There will be things we've talked about in the past that may or may not ship and new things that will ship," Ballmer said Thursday.

He downplayed the competitive threat from other operating systems. In addition to WebOS, hardware makers are developing tablets based on Google's Android software.

"We'll get a lot of cacophony. People will do things with other OSes," he said. But he noted that Microsoft has a strong base of applications for Windows and that users are familiar with the Microsoft OS. "We have everything on our side if we do things right," he said.

He didn't sound particularly concerned about Google, at one point referring to "whatever weird collection of Android devices" ends up on the market.

Nor does Microsoft seem to be worried about giving up market share. "We're not ceding any space," said Kevin Turner, Microsoft's chief operating officer.

While the executives admitted that Apple is tough competition, they also pointed to some advantages a Microsoft slate might have. "When you get your Windows 7 machine, it'll print," Ballmer said. The iPad lacks a port that would allow a user to connect a printer.

In addition to his comments about slates, Ballmer sought to show that Microsoft is strong in the consumer market. The company has been criticized in this area, however. While Bing has grown, for instance, its market share is quite small at 12.7 percent. And Microsoft has been losing market share in the smarthphone segment.

But Ballmer encouraged analysts to consider its marquee products as consumer products. Microsoft's biggest consumer product is Windows, Ballmer argued, since more than two-thirds of PCs are sold to consumers. Similarly, around two-thirds of Office software units are used by consumers, he said.

One strong point for Microsoft in the consumer market is Xbox. The company has done well in gaming, with 42 million Xboxes in use and 25 million users of Xbox Live, he said.

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