Ballmer: If We Can’t Compete w/Google, Shame on Us; Apple’s Another Story

Microsoft CEO Steve BallmerMicrosoft CEO
Steve Ballmer

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told analysts last Thursday that his company can compete with Google when it comes to making tablets, making the argument that his company had the better data, better resources, and better track record than Google. He went as far as to say that if Microsoft couldn’t compete with Google, “shame on us.” He called Apple, however, a “tougher competitor.”

The comments came at the company’s annual Financial Analysts Meeting, a session that combines a presentation by Mr. Ballmer with a Q&A session for analysts afterwards. Last Thursday we covered part of that presentation, where Mr. Ballmer said that competing with the iPad had “job one urgency” for his company. He made some additional comments, however, that were included in a broader transcript published by Fortune magazine over the weekend.

“If with the application base, with the tools that we have, with the user understanding and momentum and everything going on, we can’t compete with [Google] — particularly [with] whatever the weird collection of Android machines is going to look like, shame on us,” Mr. Ballmer said.

Mr. Ballmer has put on a brave front when it comes to Google in the past, particularly when it came to the search business, a business Microsoft re-entered with its Bing search engine. The comments on Android and the comments about competing with the iPad, however, strongly suggest that Mr. Ballmer wants to expend considerable resources to make sure his company is a player in tablet market going forward.

What is interesting, though, are the mostly complimentary comments he made about Apple. Mr. Ballmer has routinely dismissed Apple by touting the overwhelming market share his company has in PC operating systems. While he continued to riff on that theme in this presentation, he also said that Apple was a tougher company to compete with than Google.

“Apple is Apple,” he said. “They’re always a little tougher to compete with. They’re a really good competitor, and tend to be a really high-priced competitor. People worried a little bit about our bottom costs. They’ve got a lot of margin in those devices, which creates a lot of room in which to operate. Okay. We’ve competed with Apple before. I talked about that.”

Getting back to his market-share-must-mean-we-do-it-better theme, he added, “We’ve been competing with Macs, and I notice in this audience you get one profile for the 93 percent of people almost who agree with us every day about laptops.”