For reasons that aren't immediately evident, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has declared that his "job-one urgency" is killing the iPad instead of building an even better operating system in Windows 8, nurturing Microsoft's critical cloud computing efforts, or cranking out a smartphone platform that people will want to use. Nope -- he says his top priority is coming up with a platform to rival one of the nichiest consumer-technology product on the market today. Yes, the iPad cool and flashy and popular, but it's still an expensive luxury device with fairly limited use. Ballmer's declaration is like Toyota CEO Akia Toyoda announcing that his company's top priority is to build a Porsche 911 killer.
Of course, Microsoft isn't alone in its iPad obsession. It seems every vendor out there -- Dell, RIM, HP, LG, Samsung, and Lenovo -- wants to make an iPad rival. Their desperation is particularly evident in the fact that they've hooked on to the giggle-inducing term "X-pad" formula, producing laughable names like "LePad," "InterPad," and even "BlackPad."
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But the aforementioned companies are hardware vendors. Microsoft is (primarily) a software vendor, which makes Ballmer's obsession with crushing the iPad all the more curious. Here are some possible reasons he's aiming his harpoon at this white whale:
1. Steve Ballmer might be letting Wall Street dictate his company's priorities. Now that Apple is the most valuable tech company around, Ballmer and his crew are likely feeling all sorts of pressure from investors, analysts, and the board of directors to be more like Apple instead of emulating Microsoft of the Bill Gates era. History suggests that the company does better when it sticks to its broad niche of productivity software and operating systems instead of trying to be the king of all things, from search to video games.
2. Steve Ballmer might be feeling pressure from hardware vendors. HP, Dell, and other hardware makers are also feeling the pressure from Wall Street to crank out an iPad killer, but they lack a competitive platform. Android is certainly a strong contender in that regard and is enjoying greater name recognition and adoption every day -- but it's also meeting resistance in some circles. RIM may have something outstanding in the works as well that can challenge the iPad.