Ballmer Calls Windows Phone 7 'A Beautiful Product'

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on Tuesday said Windows-powered tablets will be on store shelves this holiday season, but he also made it clear that Windows Phone 7 is his top priority at the moment.

Speaking to a gathering of students and journalists at the London School of Economics, Ballmer acknowledged that Microsoft, despite having once ruled the roost with Windows Mobile, has a lot of catching up to do in the mobile market. "The job one thing, right now, is: We’ve got to get back seriously into the game of phones," Ballmer said at the event.

However, Ballmer also said people are going to be impressed with what Windows Phone 7 brings to the table. "And I think, with our new Windows phones, we really have a beautiful product," he said at the event. "I mean, people have to take a look at it and decide, but it is my belief that when we launch those products in a couple of weeks, people will look at them and say, 'Wow.'"

The exclamation "wow" is often used to describe Microsoft's mobile business, but rarely in a positive light. Microsoft's now-defunct Kin phones were the first devices to carry the Windows Phone brand, and so Windows Phone 7, in a sense, already has one strike against it.

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Early reviews of Windows Phone 7 have been promising, but until devices hit the market, it's unclear whether it'll be good enough to get Microsoft back in the game. But partners that have been working with Windows Phone 7 from an early stage expect the OS to surprise critics -- in a good way.

Next: What Partners Are Saying About Windows Phone 7

"I think everyone agrees that version one of Windows Phone 7 isn't going to beat the iPhone in every single feature. But it will be an extremely strong contender that will put Microsoft back on the map," said Nick Landry, an enterprise mobility practice manager with Infusion Development, a Microsoft partner in New York City.

Ballmer's pledge to have Windows 7 tablets on store shelves shouldn’t be surprising to Microsoft partners who attended this year's Worldwide Partner Conference. At that event, Ballmer said Microsoft was working with Asus, Dell, Sony, Samsung and Toshiba on Windows 7 powered "slate" devices, and that some of these would be available by year's end.

With tablet PCs, Microsoft's strategy is to cover a range of form factors and sizes, some with keyboards and some without. By positioning Windows 7 tablets as suitable for content creation as well as consumption, Microsoft is showing how it plans to slow the runaway train of iPad momentum.

Ballmer, who has previously characterized the iPad as just another PC form factor, would love to be able to pigeonhole the iPad as a one-dimensional content consumption device.

"If you really want most of the benefits of what a PC has to offer -- the ability to create and consume, take documents of all types -- a form factor that actually has been tuned for a lot of things over a number of years, we certainly have a superior device," Ballmer said at the London School Of Economics event.