How Steve Ballmer told me what to do with my iPad!

This content is 14 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see Steve Ballmer speak to two audiences, first at Microsoft’s Partner Briefing on transitioning to the cloud (#pbbcloud) and then at the UK TechDays Special Event on the future of cloud development (#uktechdays).

I’m sorry I didn’t catch the name of the guy who asked Mr Ballmer a question about Windows tablets in the TechDays question and answer session, but I was certainly very interested to hear the Microsoft CEO’s reaction:

Question: “We haven’t had a Windows tablet come out yet […] we do see the prototypes coming out all the time but I do remember you saying that it’s going to run full Windows 7. […] are we going to have like a tablet version of Windows Phone 7 or a tablet of Windows Embedded 7 coming out? […] To me, although [Windows 7] is touch enabled, I don’t think it’s great for a small 7″, 9″ device.”

Mr Ballmer’s response: “Yeah, what you’ll see over the course of the next year is us doing more and more work with our hardware partners creating hardware-software optimisations with Windows 7 and with Windows 7 Media Center […] Media Center is big and, when people say ‘hey, we could optimise more for clients’ I think what they generally mean is ‘Big Buttons’.  Big Buttons that’s, I think, a codeword for Big Buttons and Media Center is Big Buttons not Little Buttons. I’m not trying to trivialise that – it’s a real issue.

We’re not going to do a revamp of Windows 7 over the course of the next year for that purpose.  Whether we should, or we shouldn’t, we’ve put all our energy around doing a great job on that and other issues in the next version of Windows so we will do optimisations to have devices that look really good, that run Windows, that are very good for touch applications which we will encourage people to write. We will do things that improve – it turns out that if we just optimise settings and the configuration of Windows it can be a lot more usable through touch, even on today’s systems – we’re doing that work with the OEMs. We’re doing work with the OEMs to make sure that they treat ink also as a first class citizen.  None of our competitors products actually do a very good [job]. I saw a poor guy in a speech I did out down the hall, he had one of our competitors’ devices and he was sitting there crouched over with this thing on his knees, bent and there’s no keyboard – and he was in torture using that poor non-Windows slate device [audience laughs].

And for some of you, [you] do the same but I think we can make life a little simpler for people, if we do the right job.  Can we do better by optimising – yep – guy’s got one at the back – you can bend over too, I’ll tell ya!  [audience laughs]

The truth of the matter is the laptop weighs less – you can set it on your lap, it doesn’t weigh anything at that point and then you can type.  I’m not trying to say there’s not a place for touch-optimised slate-based devices, obviously we have shown enthusiasm about that before but you’ll see some optimisations coming in the course of the next year and some of the devices that convert, that have a keyboard, that flip around – I think some of those will be also pretty useful for people in the course of the next year.”

[I’ve tried to get the text word-perfect here but I was at the back of the room and the audio recording was not fantastic… this is certainly what it sounds like to me].

The thing is, I was that “non-Windows slate device” user down the hall (and I was the guy at the back of the room when he said this) and the only reason I was in “torture” (which, of course, was a slight overdramatisation for comedy effect) was that I was squashed into a row of seats between two other guys and I was bending forward so that we weren’t sitting there with shoulders pressed together like sardines in a tin can.  I was also juggling a camera (on my Nokia phone), a voice recorder (on my iPhone) and taking notes/tweeting on the iPad whilst listening to Mr Ballmer.  Ironically, the reason I took my iPad to the event was that my Windows devices are so bad for portability (to be honest, so is my MacBook – this is not about Windows but about the device form factor).  My netbook has to be coaxed through the day with Wi-Fi switched off in order to get more than a few hours out of the battery; my 15″ laptop only goes 2-3 hours between charges (newer models may be better, but I can’t change laptops at the drop of a hat); meanwhile, I find the iPad easy enough to type on in landscape mode, it turns on/off instantly and, after 8 hours taking notes and tweeting yesterday, it still had an indicated battery charge of 55%.  If Microsoft produced a slate that did that, I would have been using it but they don’t and, based on what Ballmer had to say yesterday, it may be some time before they finally “get it” (I wrote last month about what I think Microsoft needs to do to keep Windows relevant in the mobile computing space).

As Mary Jo Foley wrote yesterday, this year’s Windows 7 slates won’t be under my Christmas tree.

20 thoughts on “How Steve Ballmer told me what to do with my iPad!

  1. It can be compared to iPad only if it comes out…only then the real potential of the giants can also be compared…rest assured iPad is till date the most useful and brilliant.

  2. Thanks for the transcription – very interesting.

    However, I must say that netbooks are absolutely awesome for portability – My ASUS lasts 8-9 hours (it actually does) – and extended battery lasts over 12. In addition to standard apps, I also use it for photoshop, eclipse, mysql – so it’s powerful, cheap….and you dont have to stick with Windows…

  3. @Tom – I agree that netbooks are great for portability. I bought a Lenovo S10 after I saw Steven Sinofsky running a pre-release version of Windows 7 on one a couple of years ago but, even with 2GB of RAM, I find it sluggish sometimes with a full operating system installed, and battery life could be better (I have the 6-cell battery). Modern netbooks may be better – sounds like you’re doing well and I’ve certainly heard good things from another ASUS user. In addition, I find the keyboard a bit cramped and even resorted to carrying a full-sized keyboard around with me… ironically the iPad keyboard feels easier to use at times (not always, I’ll admit) – I guess it comes down to the size of your hands and the amount of typing you do on the device.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have one perfect device to conquor all of my computing demands. These days there is the work laptop (which I try to avoid using for personal use), my iPad (for personal stuff whilst I’m at work, and for couch computing), a MacBook I use for my photography, and a collection of Windows PCs at home for various family members… and, as it happens, it turns out my netbook is surprisingly good for small children!

  4. What’s the battery life on an old fashioned notebook and pen? Is the world a better place for your tweets made that day? How much have you really gained by voice recording and photographing the invent? …..just playing devil’s advocate…. :o)

  5. @Mike You are, of course, absolutely correct that I have almost unlimited battery life from a notebook and pen, but it’s not really an efficient use of my time when several of my roles in life include sharing information with others…

    Is the world a better place for my tweets? Arguably not – but, then again, I benefit from others live tweeting from events that I cannot attend in person. As for voice recording/photographing the event, that fits with another of my activities and, without it, I woudln’t have been able to got back and pick out some of the nuances in Mr Ballmer’s presentation that appear to have provided interest to others around the web…

    Devils advocate or not, I fear we’re straying off topic here – the real issue is that Microsoft is out of touch (excuse the pun) with developments in the mobile desktop space… not that battery life is better/worse on any given device: what works for one will (almost certainly) not work for all; but, as someone who uses a lot of Microsoft technology (indeed, that’s what my career was built upon), I’d dearly love to see them get their act together in this space.

  6. Mark

    You are right on the money here. Until King Canute (Ballmer) accepts that the mobile,slate and social networking markets are established and done, Microsoft’s Demise will continue. Divesting the company’s research into these areas to attract ‘some’ market share is a losing strategy.

    As an ex-kool-aider myself, I’ve seen the MSFT space-time continnum from within and was completely amazed at how far some folks (especially the leadrship) were removed from reality. The Microsoft world is flat and will remain flat. The consumer war is lost but te business war remains a strong place for MSFT to be.

    Were I in Steve’s position, I would be looking at brass tacks, taking a hit and learning to focus o the strengths. I’m no Fan-boi (ok, I have an iPad too..) but quite frankly people are openly sniggering about the Slte, Windows phone, etc.

    MSFT has huge potential to re-gear and focus on a smaller set of ventures the cloud being one of them, but frankly that race, too, is almost run.

    Hard to know what else MSFT can do from here except consolidate into data room technology as Linux and Ubuntu in particular, grow share on the desktop.

    My 2 cents.

  7. @Paul – IMVHO, Apple’s MacBook Air is overpriced and underspecced. The value in a decent tablet/slate (iPad, Galaxy Tab, etc.) is that it runs a mobile OS so is optimised for low-power chips and limited memory. MacBook Air is just an ultra-portable laptop, and I’d rather have a baby ThinkPad, or a traditional convertable tablet PC (or, or that matter, a proper, grown-up Mac or PC notebook).

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