Steve Ballmer Explains The Need for Surface

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."

  • falchard
    I think the great majority of people on this site buy Windows, not Windows PCs since we all assemble our own.
    I think it was a mistake to implement the surface. First its just not a very good product as a lot more is expected of anything PC verse a console. The typical Microsoft manufacturers tend to produce cheap feeling devices and it shows in the Surface like it showed in the XBox360.
    I think the bigger mistake Microsoft made was making Windows RT. As an OS exclusive to ARM based tablets, it has very little market presence and no real application development as a result. x86 based tablets on the other hand have a huge array of programs to install. If they just used the Windows Phone platform as an ARM based OS. It would have been fine as the developer only need to make 1 application to cover Windows ARM.
    There is a lot of redundant programing involved in the current generation of Windows OSes, so it will be nice when that redundancy is done away with. When programming Windows 8 applications, you need to create a version for Core Window and Desktop. When creating something for ARM you need to create something for the phone and something else for the Tablet. A lot of that can be done away with.
  • de5_Roy
    the real reason microsoft needed surface is to make money. alone.
    it's been shown that surface is built to make a sizable amount of profit from hardware alone, from teardown analyses.
    those apple comparisons are moot.

    and now oems are flocking to google's malware-magnet data miner... ahem, i mean android platform.
  • JeremyW
    I could understand and believe Ballmer's remarks *if* Microsoft actually created a tablet with hardware specs that pushed the hardware limits of what is already available today... lighter, brighter, higher resolution, more processing power, precise stylus for professionals, longer battery life, more modularity, better OS, more apps, less cost... like Apple has and continues to do. While I hate Apple's closed OS's, I can't deny and I even appreciate them pushing other manufacturers to make better OS's, PC's, tablets, media players, and phones. If Microsoft was serious about taking these markets they would create or enlist partners to create cutting edge hardware to showcase their platform. The hardware would get customers to pick up the product, but the software is also critical to get us to buy. I want a Windows OS that was based on and completely compatible with the PC Windows OS; allowing me to leverage the software investments I have already made. Microsoft should also go further with what has kept Windows relevant, not retreat like with Windows RT and the Windows Mobile Phone OS, to make the OS a platform that can centrally managed, licensed, and support for businesses, an OS that embraces developers to create new software, and the freedom for the users to customize their arsenal of software tools in any manner they would like.

    Without the actual proof in the form of Microsoft’s offerings to back up Ballmer’s words… I take his comments as either evidence of his incompetence as a leader for missing their mark so badly or as lies to smooth over Microsoft trying to cut OEM partners out of hardware profits.
  • JD88
    The only reason Microsoft built the Surface was to make money on hardware. They know the business model of selling an operating system is obsolete thanks to the transition to cloud based computing combined with open source offerings from Google. They needed another revenue stream, so naturally they copied Apple's business model.
    Sell a locked down device at a high markup and only offer the applications that run on it through a closed store controlled by them.

    That plan failed because Microsoft underestimated the value placed on its own app ecosystem. The Surface only had Office which gave it an advantage over the iPad and Android but it turned out that Office didn't matter much to tablet buyers who primarily use these things for content consumption.
  • viliu24
    regardless of what microsoft want to do it is less likely to create a trend like aple. Aple already saturated the market with common devices with an high price tag .Microsoft must clean the fan after trowing the sh....t w8 in it , and stick to more professional product like used to do.Microsoft raised a standard in OS market and it should do it from now on , not to copy rival market, we don't need another ios/android or whatever look alike os. Everyone wants a piece of the mobile pie, but no one does anything to improve it , they just flex their muscles without any result, as u see for the last 5 years no major innovation in it, just faster and bigger..
  • JD88
    Double post
  • tleavit
    Simply put, Windows tablets sucked (Professional versions). the only early tablet that was worth anything for professional use early was the Asus. It took Dell until last month to come out with a decent professional tablet. Microsoft had to make the move and it was a good move.
    <-- Happy Surface RT owner

    Has word, and can connect to home network to share files.

    100 times more useful to a Windows user than an iPad. People are dumb and susceptible to marketing I guess.
  • p05esto
    The surface tablets are FAR more functional than any Apple offering. If you want to try and get actual work done on a tablet the Surface Pro is the ONLY tablet option on the market.
  • RooD
    Tleavit that is false, motion computing has had great windows tablets for business for a long time now.