It was foretold that 2010 would be the year of the tablet, but iPad competitors are late to the race, and to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's chagrin, it's starting to look like Apple may have free reign until the eve of 2011. Talking to analysts today, the executive acknowledged the iPad's success saying, "they've sold certainly more than I'd like them to have sold."

Despite its delayed entry (or re-entry, if you will) Microsoft is working closely with hardware partners to develop iPad rivals and Ballmer stressed the importance of those devices. "It is job one urgency. No one is sleeping at the switch...We're coming. We're coming full guns," he said. As for when they're coming, Ballmer only gave generalizations like "it ain't a long time from now."

The discussion wasn't too revealing, but forthcoming slates will be Wintel-powered. Microsoft is supposedly "tuning" Windows 7, while hardware will be largely focused on Intel's existing Pine Trail platform, and eventually Oak Trail when it releases next year. We're not sure what to make of the "tuning" bit, but we assume it's just minor optimizations for things like touch input.

Microsoft hasn't had the best of luck in the mobile space – be it tablets or phones. The company has tried unsuccessfully for years to establish a demand for tablets, and recent projects like the Slate and Courier have failed to transcend the pre-launch hype phase. Meanwhile, it entirely dropped the ball with Windows Mobile and Kin was a disaster. Here's to hoping things improve in Redmond.