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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer sees Apple as stronger competitor to Windows 8 than Android

by David Needle

October 18 2011

Microsoft’s outspoken CEO Steve Ballmer freely answered questions about competitors and his company’s own plans during an on stage interview Tuesday evening at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

On the question of mobile devices, Ballmer said he’s not very concerned with competition from Android phones. “You don’t need to be a computer scientist to use a Windows phone; I think you do to use an Android phone.” Ballmer did also note that he thought Android-phones would probably be among the cheapest for sale this holiday season and that Microsoft needed to work harder to compete at the low end. 

“It’s very hard for me to get excited about Android phones; Apple’s a good competitor,” he said. 

Ballmer didn’t explicitly rule out Microsoft making its own tablet that would run the company’s Windows 8 software due out next year, but he emphasized the company plans to continue it’s long-standing practice of working with hardware manufacturers. 

“We are working very well and very, very hard with hardware manufacturers to make sure there is a great range of devices, phones and tablets, things that run on Intel an ARM,” said Ballmer. 

Pushed by moderator John Battelle if Microsoft would also build its own tablet, Ballmer replied, “Our business is focused on enabling hardware innovation broadly. We have been very, very successful enabling hardware innovation. Thank you for your suggestion.” 

Microsoft has talked up the potential of Windows 8 to be the foundation of a new generation of tablets, but Ballmer made a point of clarifying that Windows 8 will work on desktops as well. 

“Windows 8 mixes together the best of a new user interface and the desktop. You get new applications, but it’s one operating system, it’s not two different worlds,” he said. 

Ballmer said Windows 8 “supports a next generation of things people want to do [on tablets] that don’t involve the fine grain control you have with mice and keyboards, yet it doesn’t abandon those.” 

He noted that Windows 8 developers have a potentially huge market in the roughly 350 million PCs that ship every year. 

When asked how a consumer should evaluate the new crop of Windows phones versus Apple’s iPhone, Ballmer said both companies have invested in making sure their devices feel good in the hand and that they look “beautiful.” 

“But when you grab a phone and your information is front and center, that’s important,” he said, presumably meaning a Windows phone, “you’re not looking at a sea of icons,” i.e. an iPhone. 

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