Ballmer talks Windows Phone 7 with CNET (Q&A)

In part one of interview, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer outlines the target user for the new phone OS as well as plans for catching up with the likes of Apple and Google.

NEW YORK--Steve Ballmer thinks that Microsoft is going to make up some lost ground with Windows Phone 7. But just how much, he won't say.

"I won't make any forecasts," the Microsoft chief executive told CNET today in an interview following the introduction of the new mobile OS. "I think this is a very dynamic marketplace. You've got a weird eclectic mix of players...We'll have to see where we play in the mix, but I am optimistic about the chance to make some real progress."

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, presiding over today's New York introduction of Windows Phone 7. Bonnie Cha/CNET

Ballmer did say that Microsoft is aiming at the masses and not trying to be pigeonholed into a particular niche.

"People want to say is it an enterprise phone or is it an entertainment phone?" Ballmer said, speaking just after the launch event here. "It's a phone. It is a phone that is designed to appeal to people quite broadly. I think there are a lot of people out there who really do want a different kind of phone, who really want a phone that puts them at the center of the universe, that gives them the hardware choices that they want, not the hardware choices that somebody has made for them."

Indeed, on Monday Microsoft and its hardware partners rolled out a number of different devices --10 for the U.S. market, with varying screen sizes and shapes, including models with and without keyboards. However, Ballmer drew a line between offering some choice versus fragmenting the market--something he seemed to accuse Google of doing with Android.

Below is an edited transcript from the first part of our interview, as well as a separate video interview I did today. In part two of the interview, which is slated to post tomorrow , Ballmer talks about tablets, the PC industry, and where Microsoft is headed as a company.

Q: Who do you think is going to buy this phone? What's your elevator pitch for Windows Phone 7?
Ballmer: Who will buy it? Human beings. Let me start with that. People want to say is it an enterprise phone or is it an entertainment phone? It's a phone. It is a phone that is designed to appeal to people quite broadly. I think there are a lot of people out there who really do want a different kind of phone, who really want a phone that puts them at the center of the universe, that gives them the hardware choices that they want, not the hardware choices that somebody has made for them and yet provides the always-consistent, delightful experience that I think we offer, as opposed to the roll-your-own, different UI, different look...that you see on some of our competitors' products.

Part of playing catch up is that you have to move faster than the people you are trying to catching up with. With Android, there seems to be a different version every day and Apple is less frequent but they tend to take pretty big steps each year. How aggressive is your schedule moving forward with the phone?
Ballmer: You will see us with capability that comes out more regularly and then with big annual steps. I think it is probably fair to stay that Apple takes reasonably big steps every year to two years.

I think a lot of the steps Google is taking are chaotic and not necessarily as well thought through. It doesn't mean there is not some good stuff there and certainly we're going to have a rapid pace.

It seems to me that Windows Phone gets high marks on user experience and the polish and consistency of it and it's the technical checkboxes where it is a little further behind. Are you guys concerned it is not going to have enough for the super techie audience?
Ballmer: Certainly, we announced that copy and paste is coming early next year for a reason. Certainly there has been some feedback. I think at the end of the day whether people are in the technorati or anybody else, I think people are going to love the phones.

Looking out, say a year from now, how much market share would you guys have to get back to consider what you have done a success. Is a point or two a win, or do you have to gain more than that?
Ballmer: I won't make any forecasts. It doesn't particularly make any sense. I think this is a very dynamic marketplace. You've got a weird eclectic mix of players. There's always somebody who is hot. In Google's case, you don't really know whether an Android device is an Android device is an Android device. Then you've got some guys who are less hot. We'll have to see where we play in the mix, but I am optimistic about the chance to make some real progress.

 

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