Can Microsoft imitate Apple one more time?

Steve Ballmer vows Microsoft tablets will compete with Apple's iPad -- some day. But it will likely be too little, too late

Remember back in early June when Steve Ballmer said the Apple iPad was "just another PC"? He'd like to amend that slightly to "just another PC that's now kicking our a**."

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.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Cringely is nothing if not an equal-opportunity satirist, as he proves in "Apple's Steve Jobs: He's no Old Spice Guy" | Stay up to date on all Robert X. Cringely's observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

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.)

Off the Record submissions

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.

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