There's no question that Microsoft's move to produce its own tablet was a big shock to the industry. The rumor mill knew the day would come, and when it did, it left some of us speechless and many OEM partners reportedly very unhappy. After all, the only first-party hardware Microsoft had on the market was the Xbox 360. Why bother with building a first-party tablet when you have numerous OEMs who could do the job?
"[Surface] was less different [than Xbox], you could say," Ballmer told ZDNet in an interview. "But, I also knew that it would not be the simplest discussion to have with our partners, who[m] I wanted to stay our partners."
He said he was concerned that Microsoft had areas of vulnerability in competing with Apple. Without any first-party capability, Microsoft was not transacting very well just through the company's OEM partners. He said that management's area of concern was the high-end tablet market, a place where Apple's iPad resides.
"Our OEMs were having a hard time investing in competing with the higher end brand," he said. "The [Microsoft retail] stores were [starting] to take off, but they hadn't taken off. It turns out that was also an issue, because now there's a different kind of a presence. And without a product to fit -- a product, a brand, a price point -- to really go head-to-head, it looked like an area of exposure."
"On the other hand, there was an area of vulnerability," Ballmer added. "The vulnerability we have is not just on phones, where we're buying Nokia, but it's on tablets. And our OEMs do great work, but there are places their brands and investments don't travel. And so we wanted to supplement the work of our OEMs, hopefully make our OEMs stronger through the process, by making our overall competition with Apple."
According to ZDNet, Ballmer considers tablets and phones as tools that make people -- such as IT, developers and consumers -- more productive. He defined Microsoft as a company that makes great software for productivity and fun, but the expression will be through services and the increasing number of devices.
"Maybe it always has been [this way]," he said. "Nobody ever buys Windows. They buy Windows PCs."