Lost in all the coverage Apple gets for its innovative iPad, Microsoft actually showed a tablet prototype over a decade ago and spawned an industry of niche Windows Tablet PCs offered by its hardware partners.
Noting that history, a shareholder asked why Microsoft is so far behind in tablets. InformationWeek reports Ballmer conceded Microsoft may have been too reliant on hardware partners to develop the best tablets, but that now it’s taking the bull by the horns.
"Bill did hold up a tablet a number of years ago," Ballmer said, referring to Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates. "And, not that we don't have good hardware partners, but sometimes getting the innovation right across the seam of hardware and software is difficult unless you do both of them.”
That is of course exactly what Apple has done across its product line for years, control both the hardware and software, and what Microsoft is now able to do with Surface.
"What we've said to ourselves now is that there is no boundary between hardware and software that we will let build up as a kind of innovation barrier,” Ballmer added.
Microsoft will continue to compete with its hardware partners
The Surface announcement bothered some of Microsoft’s tablet partners who didn’t expect to be competing with its software supplier. Acer was particularly vocal, pleading with Microsoft not to do it.
But others have been less critical. Asked about the Surface tablet at the TabletBiz conference Tuesday, Dell’s VP of personal computing products Neil Hand said Microsoft is “just another vendor we have to compete with. That’s nothing new."
Microsoft has yet to confirm numerous reports that it is already developing its own Windows 8 smartphone.