John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Microsoft’s Ballmer: Surface Is the Tablet Consumers Really Want

Apple has sold 100 million iPads since it launched the device two and a half years ago. And Amazon, without ever disclosing any sales numbers, perennially maintains that the Kindle Fire is its best-selling product ever. But the millions of consumers who bought those tablets did so mistakenly, because those weren’t the devices they really wanted.

The tablet consumers really want, the one they have always wanted, is Microsoft’s new Surface.

According to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, anyway.

“I don’t think anybody has done a product that is the product that I see customers wanting,” Ballmer told CNBC during a recent interview. “You can go through the products from all those guys … and none of them has a product that you can really use. Not Apple. Not Google. Not Amazon. Nobody has a product that lets you work and play that can be your tablet and your PC. Not at any price point.

“This is a first-class tablet that people can enjoy and appreciate,” Ballmer continued. “It’s a PC; it’s a tablet. It’s for play; it’s for work. It’s got a great price. That product doesn’t exist today.”

And perhaps that’s so. Surface is unique in the market it’s entering. It’s the industry’s flying, floating car — though as some have recently observed, it’s not clear that it does either of those things well. But, to Ballmer, ever the irrepressible pitchman, Surface is not a compromise. It’s a reimagining of the PC, of Windows and of Microsoft itself, now a “devices and services company.”

And it’s a big risk. Which is why Microsoft is marketing Surface and Windows 8 with a campaign estimated to cost about $1.5 billion.

It’s also why Ballmer is in the media with this hard sell — a variation on the “know what your customers want before they know it themselves” adage: “Know what your customers want after they want something else for a few years.”

But, who knows, maybe he’s right. Maybe a portion of the tablet market does want a more chimeric device, and just hasn’t realized it yet. Maybe Microsoft will change users’ expectations for tablets. But after two and half years and 100 million iPads sold, it’s not going to be easy.


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