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Ballmer: Phones are like remote control for life

In a keynote at CTIA, the Microsoft chairman concedes the power of the mobile phone, noting that while the PC packs more punch, the phone is the computer people actually have with them at all times.

Updated 4:40 p.m. to note Microsoft not interested in bidding for wireless spectrum.

SAN FRANCISCO--Cell phones are so great these days that some people have started carrying two.

Well, that's not exactly true. A growing number of people do have multiple cell phones, but it's actually a failure, not a success of the industry, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said on Tuesday.

People are finding they need one phone for work and another for home, or one phone for e-mail and another for making phone calls.

"That strikes me as incredibly odd," Ballmer said in a keynote speech at the CTIA Fall 2007 trade show here.

The goal of the industry--and of Microsoft--should be to create devices that work for both home and work and are capable of handling running business applications, unified messaging and gaming.

"In a sense we have to think about the phone as almost a universal remote control for your life," Ballmer said.

Ballmer even conceded that the phone is taking on a more central role than the computer for many people.

"The phone has a unique role," he said. "While the PC is the most powerful device, the phone is most popular device." In a world of services (think Windows Live) that run over a variety of devices, it is the phone that any individual is most likely to have at any given time, he said.

In some cases, the phone will be the computer.

"In many countries the phone will be the PC for people that have very little money," he said, pointing to a scenario in which the phone plugs into a docking station and connects up to a keyboard and television to act as a PC-like device, something Microsoft has been developing in its labs and hopes to start testing over the next 12 months.

How many devices do you carry? For those that do carry more than one, what would it take for you to carry one? Feel free to sound off below or drop me a note.

Update: Ballmer also noted that Microsoft is not planning to bid in the upcoming U.S. wireless spectrum auction as some of its rivals are said to be planning to do.

"What would it buy us to own a piece of spectrum," he said. "It would probably do a lot to alienate the telecom industry."