When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer looks at the iPad, he doesn’t see a new category of device, just a different PC form factor.
On Thursday at the Wall Street Journal's D8 conference, Ballmer said people are going to continue using PCs in even greater numbers than they are today, in what amounted to a response to Apple CEO Steve Jobs' assertion earlier this week that tablets and smartphones are going to relegate PCs to the computing sidelines.
In a Q&A with the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, Ballmer acknowledged that future PCs will look different from current ones. They'll continue to change and evolve, becoming smaller in size and adding touch-enabled functionality, he said.
For these reasons, Ballmer thinks the notion of tablets as a new, distinct category of device isn't accurate. There will eventually be a range of tablet-like devices on the market that run Windows, Ballmer said, adding that Microsoft and Apple could “run into each other” at some point in the future.
Microsoft's tablet strategy is murkier than ever in the wake of its decision to shelve its dual-screen Courier tablet project, as well as HP's decision to use webOS instead of Windows 7 in its own forthcoming line of tablets.
On the mobile side, Ballmer admitted that Microsoft has fallen behind and no longer enjoys the leading role it once played. "We're not anywhere near where we ought to be, or should be," Ballmer said in the Q&A. With Windows Mobile, "We missed a whole cycle," he said.
The latest figures from Gartner underscore this in neon: Windows Mobile is now running fifth in global mobile OS market share, trailing Symbian (44.3 percent), Blackberry (19.4 percent), iPhone (15.2 percent) and Android (9.6 percent).
Still, Ballmer believes that Microsoft is capable of a comeback in mobile, especially given market leadership has changed twice in recent years. "[Mobile is] a very dynamic business," Ballmer said. "The fact that the market is pretty dynamic [is something] I have to view as our opportunity."
Microsoft says its "all-in" with cloud computing, and Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, who also took part in the Q&A, said a big area of opportunity for Microsoft lies in making all the different types of mobile devices connect to the cloud.
Mossberg asked Ballmer and Ozzie to respond to the notion that cloud computing poses a threat to Microsoft's traditional business.
"There's nothing bad for us in the trend [toward cloud computing]," Ballmer responded. "We're moving from a world that's fundamentally good for us to a world that could be even better for us."