Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer used a June 3 talk at the D8 Conference to acknowledge that his company had made missteps in the smartphone space, where it lags behind fierce competitors such as the Apple iPhone and a growing number of devices powered by Google Android. However, Ballmer suggested that the dynamic nature of the smartphone space presents an opening for Microsoft to become a more serious competitor. Microsoft plans on launching its smartphone operating-system revamp, Windows Phone 7, at some point before the end of 2010.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer used the
platform of the D8 Conference on June 3 to acknowledge his company's missteps
in the smartphone space, as well as the strength of competitors such as Apple's
iPhone and the ever-increasing number of Android-powered devices.
A full blow-by-blow of that conversation can
be found on this Website, although it lacks the accuracy of a polished
"We were ahead of this game, and now we find ourselves No. 5 in the market,"
Ballmer told The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg during an onstage
question-and-answer session. "We missed a whole cycle. I've been quite public
about the fact that I've made some changes in leadership around our Windows
Phone software. We had to do a little cleanup."
Nonetheless, Ballmer tried to paint the smartphone market as one in
continual flux, offering his company opportunities as it prepares to launch
Windows Phone 7, a revamp of its smartphone operating-system franchise, at an
as-yet-unannounced point in 2010.
"We're driving forward in the phone business," Ballmer said. "But this is a
very dynamic business, the market leaders here have shifted over twice in the
past few years ... so we've got to have real ideas and we've got to execute
As part of Microsoft's renewed push into the mobile space, the company
recently released a pair of phones, the Kin One and Kin Two, aimed at a younger
demographic. Both devices have been optimized for social networking, and allow
multimedia such as photos to be quickly uploaded to the cloud. While touted by
many analysts as an early indicator of Microsoft's ability to conceive and
execute a wide-ranging plan for a mobile product, the company has not yet
released sales figures for the Kins' first few weeks on the market.
Nonetheless, Ballmer acknowledged that other competitors have managed to
corner a substantial portion of the mobile market. First he mentioned Research
In Motion, maker of BlackBerry, as "obviously a good competitor" but less
robust as a "general-purpose tech platform" than its competitors. But Ballmer
seemed to reserve most of his comments for Apple and Google, which have made
substantial inroads into the consumer smartphone arena.
"They've done a good job of coming from nowhere a few years ago," Ballmer
said about Apple. "They've done their best job on the browser. People focus on
the apps, but the browser is really the thing that has distinguished their
phones from others."
Meanwhile, "Android's a real competitor," Ballmer acknowledged, but also
exhibited confusion about Google's chances in the tablet PC market, where
Android will be ported onto a handful of manufacturers' offerings. "On the
larger screen devices, who knows? I don't know that these Android-based things
will matter. ... I don't really understand why Google has two different operating
was accompanied for his D8 discussion by Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray
Ozzie, who participated in a wider-ranging discussion about tablets and
Microsoft's entrance into the cloud. Ozzie suggested that, despite the rise of
smartphones and similar mobile devices such as tablets, there would always be
room for a diversity of form factors.
"I think there's going to be success in a number of form factors-in the pad
form factor, in the tablet mode. I think there will be appliancelike screens
that will be in our living rooms," Ozzie said. "There are certain fundamental
differences in productivity in consumption and creation experiences, though.
Both must exist on these devices."
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.