Steve Ballmer Admits Microsoft’s iPad-Killer Is A Flop

Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired.com

The man, the myth, the sweaty legend: Steve Ballmer

It’s no secret that Microsoft’s would-be iPad-killer has been a complete disappointment, but now Steve Ballmer, the company’s ever-optimistic CEO, is admitting to employees that the Surface is a flop.

Ballmer held a “rally the troops” event on the Microsoft campus yesterday to go over the company’s quarterly earnings and boost morale, but according to people at the event, Ballmer dove into how disappointing it has been trying to make Surface a success.

Ballmer told the group they “built a few more devices than we could sell,” according to Neowin. Later he admitted that Windows 8 hasn’t been adopted as fast as he hoped and that Microsoft isn’t selling as many Windows devices as he wants either.

Microsoft has tried everything it can to sell the Surface, from a huge media campaign full of anti-iPad ads to steep discounts on the hardware, but nothing has worked to convince consumers to choose the Surface over Apple’s tablet, or even the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD.

The future isn’t terribly bleak in Ballmdog’s eyes though. Despite the $900 million bath Microsoft took last quarter from Surface sales, he says the company is working super-hard to convince Instagram to make an app for Windows Phone, and Microsoft is already making plans for the next-generation Surface, which might include the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor.

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  • segwayne

    Ballmer really doesn’t have a clue, does he? I understand that he’s up against the wall but “working super hard to convince Instagram to make an app for Windows Phone”??? Really? If they have to “work super hard” to get ANY app developed for their Windows 8 flop, then maybe they have bigger problems that “working super hard” to get a single app developed isn’t going to help AT ALL.

    Just let it die, fire sale them (ala HP’s TouchPad) *then* work to build, support, and encourage a community BEFORE “making plans for the next-generation Surface that might include the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor” (which also wouldn’t help Microsoft at all)…

  • Junaidkureshi

    Then they say iPad is crap. Buhahahahaha

  • thegraphicmac

    Nobody wants the Surface, so Ballmer’s answer is to make a faster Surface? Dafuq kind of popsicle is he sucking on?

  • daov2a

    Important here to make a distinction between RT and the Pro. The Pro is selling quite well. I have a Surface Pro and an iPad. I’ll let you guess which one I actually use.

    If anyone truly thought the RT or Pro would be an iPad killer, they were dreaming. Thinking this is a death knell for RT is silly, though, as well. RT will last and only get better until CPUs (low power and high power) converge and allow for a single OS to power both, which is what Apple’s heading toward as well.

    But yeah, MS should have known going in to not build up massive inventories for the RT and should have released the Pro at the same time as the RT. The Pro was released 02-2013 and the RT was released in 11-2012. Just dumb and bad marketing. The whole marketing around the Surface was mind-bogglingly ludicrous (and still is). Oh well, good thing MS has started to diversify their revenue streams and can take a hit like this.

  • robraden

    Other than the fact that you bought one, got any stats to back up your statement that the pro is selling “quite well”? I ask because it isn’t. It may be selling decently in comparison to the RT, but that’s a terrible way to compare. Both versions are a flop. If Balmer could have raved about the Surface Pro’s sales, he would have.

  • aardman

    A more appropriate name for the Surface is the Abyss.

  • Gadget

    Siri; “Say my name bitch…..What’s that? You can’t speak?”

  • Gadget

    That picture of Ballmer above, is he trying to deflect reality? Like a reality distortion field?

  • lwdesign1

    OK, maybe I’m a bad person, but it just feels kind of nice to see Microsoft on the defensive. I’ve been a Mac user since 1989 and have suffered through all the years of bad press about Apple (which still goes on) and sneers from Microsoft (which doesn’t have much relevance these days). I’d love to see Microsoft come out with a great, user-friendly and capable product, but after years of waiting they still don’t seem to be able to do this. I’ll give them credit for coming out with a non-copycat user interface in Win8. It’s refreshing to see a company that doesn’t simply slavishly copy everything Apple does (Microsoft stores to the contrary). It’s just taken the general public about 25 years to finally come to the realization that Microsoft just hasn’t been producing lovable, easily useable and useful products, and that Apple has.

  • Gregory Wright

    iPad killer……who came up with that idea? You can’t kill what you don’t see. The iPad is so far ahead of other tablets, including Windows RT, that it will take years for them to catch up. Microsoft needs to build up its app inventory, maybe come up with some app no one has thought of to generate interest. The iPad is in the psych of the world. It will be very hard to displace it. The iPad is like water. You can’t do without it. Keep trying Steve you might get there one day.

  • RockyCarr

    Dear Steve Ballmer: The problem isn’t the Surface tablet. It’s a fine piece of hardware that looks nice, is well-built, and seems to perform well. The problem, Mr. Ballmer, is that abortion of an operating system you guys installed on it. Windows 8 is simply not ready for prime time. 8.1 fixes some issues, but you’re still trying to squeeze two different interfaces into one OS. Add to that the severe (and I mean REALLY severe) lack of quality software to run on it, and you’ve got a recipe for a flop. Your shiny new OS and tablets launched WITHOUT any support from any of the major social networks: No Twitter app, no Facebook app, no Instagram app, no Tumblr app, etc., and your all-in-one “People” app designed to replace all of them is both boring and annoying to use. The Mail app was absolutely dismal. The “live” tiles don’t actually show “live” data; just the same things over and over again. I could go on, but I think you get my point.

    Windows 8 could be a GREAT OS. It just needs some more development and some more research into how people actually use their computers. Don’t feel too bad, though. OS X versions 10.0 – 10.3 were pretty bad as well. Don’t give up!

  • AznCreation

    The Pro is a much more capable tablet than the iPad, largely due to it being able to do far more content creation. The RT was junk from the getgo, not due to the OS hardware itself, but rather the fact that there was no content support for the metro interface at launch. Hell, Office isn’t even supported in it yet. 8.1 did a good job fixing a lot of the bugs, and Microsoft’s doing much more than Apple has to address customer concerns and ideas on improvement, which is a big plus, but in the end, Apple’s got the tablet niche. Instead of trying to compete with the iPad with ARM processors that just don’t have the same app support, make a better battery life Pro that runs it all and has 3rd party accessory support, and people may start turning their heads.

    Apple hasn’t made a better product than the competition; they have prestige pricing to a science. You pay more, you believe you get more, and you justify it in your mind that you have the best thing out there. Apple also has a service team with the Genius’s that no one else can match that service’s their in house items. If MS could do such a thing with tablets and phones, it would be harder for people on the fence to ignore Microsoft’s offerings.

  • David Shanahan

    Microsoft need to understand that “Windows” isn’t a selling point, it’s a huge disincentive to buyers. People don’t use Windows because they like it, they use it because it’s what they’re forced to use by their employers, etc. To sell to consumers spending their own money they need to drop Windows as a brand and sell devices running a whole new OS (and apps) that aren’t Windows (or Office).

    Fortunately they already have this new OS, it used to be called Metro but now it has no name anyone recognises or understands. That has to change, give it a new snappy name and drop the Windows/Office crap from the RT products, make them entirely “Metro” devices. Then drop the “Metro” junk from desktop Windows 8. x, it’s never going to fly on conventional desktops and notebooks. “Metro” is for touch devices only, it’s for exciting consumer devices like phones and tablets, Windows is for the old desktop computers that will still be around in declining numbers for years to come.

    Until Microsoft can break their Windows-everywhere delusion and realise that the new devices need the new UI and the old devices need the old UI they’ll never get anywhere and are just leaving their customers confused and happy to move to better mobile devices. I think the chances of Microsoft making this radical change in approach and thought in time to save themselves are getting smaller every day. Ballmer just doesn’t want to get it, and it looks like he never will.

  • rigit_digit

    Ballm-dawg. It’s time to step down as CEO and let someone with new/big ideas run the show. You’ve held MS together (somewhat) since Bill stepped away. It’s time man, it’s time.

  • digileo

    I think it’s not good to try to mock a company of their products especially on ads world wide. That goes for all these big shoots, Apple, Samsung, Google, HTC. Stop shooting bullets at each other and concentrate on making something that work!

    How many of you are tired of the whole crap bout apple, sueing samsung, samsung sueing apple, court this, court that. It’s literally seeing two small children fighting over a toy. Come off it

  • Market_Mayhem

    But everyone who bought the Surface RT say it’s a wonderful tablet and way more useful than any iPad in existence because you can actually get real work done on them. MS Office, multitasking, USB port, Flash support, etc. The Surface RT has it all, so why aren’t they selling more of them? At least the loyal Windows fanbois can look forward to the Surface RT 2. Microsoft is going to sell tens of millions of them because they’ll be much more useful than any iPad Apple can build. Yay! Windows 8 everywhere. That’s what consumers want.

  • iSteve

    iPad is magical and it’s difficult to fight the wonders of magics.

  • Paul Burt

    The Pro is a much more capable tablet than the iPad, largely due to it being able to do far more content creation. The RT was junk from the getgo, not due to the OS hardware itself, but rather the fact that there was no content support for the metro interface at launch. Hell, Office isn’t even supported in it yet. 8.1 did a good job fixing a lot of the bugs, and Microsoft’s doing much more than Apple has to address customer concerns and ideas on improvement, which is a big plus, but in the end, Apple’s got the tablet niche. Instead of trying to compete with the iPad with ARM processors that just don’t have the same app support, make a better battery life Pro that runs it all and has 3rd party accessory support, and people may start turning their heads.

    Apple hasn’t made a better product than the competition; they have prestige pricing to a science. You pay more, you believe you get more, and you justify it in your mind that you have the best thing out there. Apple also has a service team with the Genius’s that no one else can match that service’s their in house items. If MS could do such a thing with tablets and phones, it would be harder for people on the fence to ignore Microsoft’s offerings.

    Except the Surface Pro isn’t meant to compete with the iPad. The iPad is a tablet; the Surface Pro is a tablet computer. They’re two different markets. If the iPad genuinely wasn’t better than any of the Android tablets or the Surface RT, there’s no way Apple would have such a commanding grip on the tablet market. You’re deluded if you think that the vast majority of iPad owners buy it knowing that there are better tablets available.

  • Steven Quan

    Ballm-dawg. It’s time to step down as CEO and let someone with new/big ideas run the show. You’ve held MS together (somewhat) since Bill stepped away. It’s time man, it’s time.

    This is one thing I don’t get. Bill Gates is still the chairman of Microsoft and majority shareholder. He’s not running the company day to day, but his input is a large reason Ballm-dog is still in charge. Bill Gates is still at Microsoft, he’s just looming in the background.

  • Steven Quan

    The Pro is a much more capable tablet than the iPad, largely due to it being able to do far more content creation. The RT was junk from the getgo, not due to the OS hardware itself, but rather the fact that there was no content support for the metro interface at launch. Hell, Office isn’t even supported in it yet. 8.1 did a good job fixing a lot of the bugs, and Microsoft’s doing much more than Apple has to address customer concerns and ideas on improvement, which is a big plus, but in the end, Apple’s got the tablet niche. Instead of trying to compete with the iPad with ARM processors that just don’t have the same app support, make a better battery life Pro that runs it all and has 3rd party accessory support, and people may start turning their heads.

    Apple hasn’t made a better product than the competition; they have prestige pricing to a science. You pay more, you believe you get more, and you justify it in your mind that you have the best thing out there. Apple also has a service team with the Genius’s that no one else can match that service’s their in house items. If MS could do such a thing with tablets and phones, it would be harder for people on the fence to ignore Microsoft’s offerings.

    If what you’re saying is true, Surface Pro should be selling like gangbusters. I seriously doubt the biggest factor it’s not selling well is because of battery life. I think the answer lies somewhere in the price which is roughly double what iPad sells for.

    As far as iPad goes that’s arguable. iPad is the most polished tablet on the market today without question. There are tablets out there that can do things iPad can’t do made by Google, Microsoft, and others. But nobody has put the whole package of light weight, quality construction, large selection of apps, ease of use, sexy design, customer support, and price.

    Windows 8 is clumsy any way you slice it and it feels like v.1 it’s not polished at all. Try buying a Surface tablet online and returning it in a Microsoft store, can’t do it. It’s little things like that this that leave a bad taste in people’s mouth.

    Regarding Microsoft’s service team, they have copied Apple’s Stores verbatim. Microsoft has their own version of the Genius Bar.

  • RonaldRidderhof

    The SP is way to expensive next to the iPad, and Ballmer needs to step down. He is a crazy man on stage. He’s no artist. Microsoft should do, what they do best…..! A fresh CEO would help Microsoft, but they have to make the’re own products en not to try to compete with Apple. This competion slows innovation down. And….Steve is a bit slow:-)

  • GarionDK

    So it looks like Microsoft’s iPad-killer will have as much success killing the iPad, as their iPod-killer had in killing the iPod, eh? ;-)

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Buster HeinBuster Hein is Cult of Mac's Senior News Editor and lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Twitter: @bst3r.

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