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Steve Ballmer said at a Silicon Valley event last night that his company plans to split the difference between the strategies of Google and Apple as it embarks on a crucial period of selling a new mobile operating system and mobile hardware. He also hinted at the company’s hardware plans, and denied that the departure of Steve Sinofsky will lead to a change in software strategy.

The Android operating system and app ecosystem is a “little bit wild,” Balmer said, speaking with LinkedIn Executive Chairman Reid Hoffman on stage at a Churchill Club event, “maybe in a way that’s not in the consumer’s best interest.”

On Android, he said, developers struggle to build apps that are compatible across devices, and malware has proliferated. Meanwhile, Apple offers expensive devices and perhaps controls its app ecosystem too closely.

“The question is how you get the quality but not at the premium prices, maybe with a controlled but not as controlled ecosystem,” he said. Unsurprisingly, he believes that answering this question will be a major basis for building Microsoft’s market share, which lags far behind today. “Our challenge right now is not getting 60 percent of the smartphone market. Our challenge is to get 10, then 15, then 20.”

Ballmer also gave a hint about Microsoft’s future hardware plans. He said the company will continue its strategic shift into making hardware on tablets, game consoles and other areas where innovation requires a close integration with software strategy. That suggests a Microsoft-made smartphone may indeed by in the works.

“If we think there is innovation that can cross that hardware-software boundary we are not going to cede that as an opportunity,” he said, though he still believes other companies will make the lion’s share of Windows devices over the next five years, and certainly on traditional PCs.

Ballmer spoke two days after the resignation of Windows division president Steve Sinofsky, a divisive leader at Microsoft who led the development of the company’s new Windows 8 operating system, which merges desktop and tablet interfaces. 

Sinofsky’s departure in the weeks after the launch of the reimagined Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 operating system has spurred speculation about Microsoft’s direction going forward. But Ballmer said a strategic change is not in store. “We’re kind of all-in on what we’ve done,” he said. “We think we’re off to a very, very good start.” 

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Tagged: Computing, Business, Microsoft, Windows 8, Steve Ballmer, Surface

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