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Ballmer: Microsoft's brand 'means something' to users

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer insinuated this week that his company's ailing brand holds value for users, more so than rival brands, while at the same time conceding that he's seeing a lot more of Apple's iPads deployed in the real world than he'd like to.

In a sit-down with CNet's Ina Fried, Ballmer was asked whether the wide assortment of Windows Phone 7 handsets introduced this week presents Microsoft with an opportunity to advocate more variety than Apple but perhaps not as much variety and confusion as in the Android space.

"I think you clearly have a lot more variety than Apple has. There's really only one choice in the Apple world," he said. " I think the problem, if you don't have a minimum kind of standard […] the brand means nothing to the user. Our brand means something to the user. It means something to the developer. It implies a certain level of consistency and high quality, which I think is important for the Windows Phone."

Ballmer, whose failures in the mobile space recently cost him half his bonus, was also pressed by Fried on how his company plans to match the extended battery life and instant-on capabilities of the iPad, to which he declined a response.

"I think probably the things of tomorrow are best left for tomorrow and the things of today are best discussed today," he said. "So today, I will focus on Windows Phone."

Still, Fried relentlessly served up tablet question after tablet question, confronting Ballmer — who recently claimed he can glance at a room and know how many Macs and iPads are there — about his concerns with the number of iPads he's actually seeing.

"You certainly see more," said Ballmer. "You certainly see more than I would like. One is more than I would like."

"On the other hand, it depends what people are doing," he continued. "Certainly someone who wants to sit and do an interview and take notes and scroll around, they are unlikely to find that device very comfortable. It doesn't stand up on its own. It doesn't have a big screen and keyboard."

Still, the iPad has been out in the open for almost a year now yet faces no direct competitor. With Ballmer recently claiming during an analyst meeting that forging an iPad rival is priority No. 1, Fried prompted him to offer up a ballpark timeframe for Microsoft's answer to the Apple device.

"Like I said, you will see a set of things from our partners, essentially around the holidays," Ballmer said without elaborating. "And then they will get an enhancement (next year) , which I highlighted, from Intel, which will be very valuable, as we get their next generation Oak Trail processors. It's also an important part of our road map."

Readers can check out more of Ballmer's response's in CNet's dual segment (1, 2) interview.