Microsoft's Ballmer: Windows Phone 7 Success Is Wait-and-See

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talked Windows Phone 7 at this week's Gartner conference, but suggested it could take months to tell whether the devices "resonate."

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer seemed a little reluctant about predicting Windows Phone 7's chances at this week's Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2010, in Orlando, Fla.

This is nothing new. In late 2009, as Windows 7 headed towards release, Ballmer seemed anxious to downplay that platform's marketplace chances. Windows 7 turned out a success, selling more than 240 million copies within its first twelve months, but Windows Phone 7 may prove more of a risk for Microsoft.

"Within the next few months, people get their hands on them," Ballmer told an audience of mostly CIOs and IT pros during his Oct. 21 keynote talk at the conference. "We'll have a sense of whether [they're] resonating."

Nonetheless, in keeping with his position as CEO and thus chief cheerleader for the company's brands, Ballmer gamely predicted that Windows Phone 7 would be Microsoft's next big hit. He also used questioning by two Gartner analysts to take a swipe at Google Android, whose distribution model-multiple manufacturers' smartphones offered on multiple carriers-closely aligns with that of Windows Phone 7.

"I agree with one of our competitors when they remark about the incoherence of another competitor's ecosystem," he said, in an apparent reference to Apple CEO Steve Jobs' earnings-call speech earlier this week about the fragmentation of Android's ecosystem. Jobs had argued that Android being offered in multiple versions on wildly different smartphones sowed confusion for both developers and customers.

Ballmer seemed to indicate during his keynote that Microsoft would work "deliberately" to add to Windows Phone 7's capabilities.

"Consumer fads don't move every year," he said. "When they move, they move importantly, but they don't move that real-time. Really." More features will appear on the smartphones in coming months: "Being frequent, being regular is very important...will be important for Windows Phone as we move forward."

With regard to both smartphones and other products, Microsoft finds itself wrestling with the sometimes-contrarian needs of users and IT departments tasked with managing devices.

"People want what they want when they want it, and IT deals with it," Ballmer said. "Sometimes more pressure will come from the user and sometimes more from IT. I think we're better equipped to delight the consumer and help IT also keep control over the set of devices that people are going to use."

Following the launch of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft will likely concentrate more resources on the evolving tablet market, where the company has yet to push for a substantial presence. Following the success of Apple's iPad, a number of hardware manufacturers, including Samsung and Research In Motion, are planning tablet offerings that run either a proprietary operating system or Google Android.

But Ballmer seemed reluctant to share an exact timeframe for when Windows tablets would have a substantial presence on the market.

"Devices ship all the time," he said. "You will continue to see an evolution of devices."

In the meantime, Hewlett-Packard launched its Windows 7-equipped Slate 500 Oct. 22. That tablet is aimed primarily at the enterprise market.