In a recent interview, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that his firm’s Surface device lineup would not “dominate” the PC market. To be fair, Microsoft never claimed otherwise. But Ballmer claims Surface is a real business, and not an experiment or a way to show partners how to build high-quality PCs and devices.
“I’m super glad we did Surface,” Mr. Baller told MIT’s Technology Review in an extended Q&A. “I think it is important, and not just for Microsoft, but for the entire Windows ecosystem, to see integrated hardware and software.”
When questioned about whether Surface was a “real business,” Ballmer revealed an interesting perspective. “Surface is a real business,” he said. “In an environment in which there’s 350 million PCs sold, I don’t think Surface is going to dominate volume, but it’s a real business.”
Microsoft has yet to reveal Surface sales figures, though its recently released Surface with Windows 8 Pro device has apparently gotten off to a good start, with the high-end 128GB model selling out repeatedly. But questions about availability continue to dog the company, with critics alleging that very few devices were in fact manufactured to begin with.
Ballmer doesn’t address those concerns in the Q&A. But he does offer some other interesting tidbits:
Consumer is king, not business. “Sixty-five percent of all PCs go to the consumer, not to the enterprise,"
Ballmer said. “Seventy percent of all Office suites go to the consumer, not the enterprise. One hundred percent of all Xboxes go to the consumers, not the enterprise.”
Hybrid devices make sense because consumer and business are not separable. “Email is email, real-time communication is real-time communication, handwriting and phone and these things are the same, and I don’t need one for work and one for home,” he said, defending Microsoft’s strategy to create one system that can do it all. “There are some core services that people will want to use in their professional personas as well as their personal personas. Certainly people want to use the same devices to accomplish things, and to engage personally and professionally … That tablet that I use to watch movies in my hotel room and to email: Is it a consumer device or a business device?”
Machine learning is a secret sauce, from Microsoft Research, that could prove to be one of Microsoft’s biggest assets. “Everything we do in voice recognition, handwriting recognition, in vision, everything that we do with recommendation engines, phones, and Xboxes, they’re all about trying to understand the world and the user and then use machine learning to find patterns,” Ballmer said. “Machine learning aligns the interests of the user with what’s possible in the world. I see it sort of permeating most of our product line.”
Microsoft’s elevator pitch. Whereas Apple makes devices for consumers and Google indexes the world’s information, Microsoft “empowers people and businesses to realize their potential,” according to Ballmer. “We’re about defining the future of productivity, entertainment, and communication,” he said. “In the new world, software is going to have to come in kind of an integrated form, or at least a well-designed form that includes cloud services and devices.”