Despite possibly ruffling the feathers of several hardware partners, Microsoft is intent on its quest to dethrone Apple as King of Tablets with the release of its own magical weapon: the Windows 8-powered Surface tablet. Leading the assault is none other than Microsoft's CEO, Steve Ballmer, who told CRN in an exclusive interview on Monday that his company will leave no "stone unturned" in regards to innovation.
"We are trying to make absolutely clear we are not going to leave any space uncovered to Apple," Ballmer said in a 30-minute interview after addressing around 16,000 partners at the company's annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto. "We are not. No space uncovered that is Apple’s."
He went on to say that Microsoft, which is producing its own Windows 8 tablet, has advantages in productivity, and in terms of enterprise management, and manageability. The company also has advantages in terms of when end-users plug into server infrastructure in the enterprise, he said.
"We are not going to let any piece of this [go uncontested to Apple]," he said. "Not the consumer cloud. Not hardware software innovation. We are not leaving any of that to Apple by itself. Not going to happen. Not on our watch. We do feel empowered to innovate everywhere and bring our partners with us. We are just not going to leave any -- what’s the expression people like to use -- we’re not going to leave any stone unturned, so to speak, as we pursue that."
With the company making its own tablet, there has been an assumption that Microsoft may produce its own Windows Phone 8-based smartphone as well to directly compete with Apple's iPhone. When asked about such a device, Ballmer said Microsoft is currently working really hard on the Surface tablet. That's the focus, he said. That's the core.
"Look, we’ll see what happens," he said. "We have good partners with Nokia, HDC in the phone space. I love what we've got going on with the Surface. We are going to focus on Surface and our other Windows 8 tablet partners and see if we can go make something happen."
Still, Microsoft has "good partners" with HP, Dell, Lenovo and others, yet that didn't stop Microsoft from producing its own branded tablet. A branded Microsoft smartphone doesn't seem unlikely -- the company may merely need to focus on one branded product at a time. As Ballmer stated, Microsoft needs to "put one foot in front of the other."
During the interview, Ballmer was also asked if hardware partners will be able to sell Surface devices. As it stands now, they'll only be available through Microsoft.com and Microsoft retail stores.
"If a partner says, ‘Hey look I want to sell some of these things. I want to put them in solutions,’ they can order some off Microsoft.com and sell them," he said. "There is nothing that gets in the way of that. But, we have not set up what I would call industrial distribution as sort of a first element. We may get there. But, if a partner wants to order some and put them in a solution with the customer, we’ll be excited to see that happen."
Microsoft plans to release two Surface tablets: one featuring an x86-based chip sporting Windows 8 Pro, and one packing an ARM-based chip with Windows RT. Apple, on the other hand, only offers ARM-based tablets.