ballmerdifferent

Microsoft just doesn’t know how to quit the PC market.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who is expected to step down within a year, said yesterday that one of Microsoft’s biggest problems is that it ignored the smartphone market until it was too late. (He also identifies this as an opportunity for Microsoft to grow, a position he rightly attributes to his unrelenting optimism.)

“If there’s one thing I regret, there was a period in the early 2000s when we were so focused on what we had to do around Windows,” Ballmer said, “that we weren’t able to redeploy talent to the new device form factor called the phone.”

That’s only news to Ballmer. Industry observers have been nay-saying Microsoft’s sluggish entry into the modern smartphone market and Ballmer’s dismissal of the original iPhone for years. Admitting there’s a problem is the first step to recovery, though, and it’s heartening to see Ballmer recognize that whiffing on smartphones was a mistake.

But the more Ballmer’s rhetoric changes, the more it stays the same: “We must do the work to ensure that the PC stays the device of choice when [people are] trying to be productive in life,” Ballmer said during yesterday’s event.

That’s despite the IDC research firm’s report that tablet shipments will surpass PC shipments during Q4 2013 and that they will surpass annual shipments by 2015. Consumers are purchasing tablets more often than they’re purchasing desktop computers or laptops, and that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.

Ballmer’s biggest regret is focusing on the PC while smartphones became increasingly important to society; now he seems to think that focusing on the PC while tablets become more and more popular among consumers will allow Microsoft to succeed in the future.

There’s some hope for Microsoft, which is reportedly focusing on smartphones and “phablets” with its oft-derided Windows RT operating system. Windows’ future, and Microsoft’s future with it, lies with small, touchscreen devices and standalone products like the Xbox One.

To his credit, Ballmer put those changes in motion. The only trouble is that he was running towards Microsoft’s future as he stared over his shoulder, wondering how he could bring PCs along for the ride.

How’s that saying go? Ignore a changing industry once, shame on the industry; ignore a changing industry twice, shame on the guy leading the company, right?

[Image courtesy Aanjhan Ranganathan]