Today in Apple history: iPad fails to impress Bill Gates


Bill Gates Fox News
Bill Gates definitely doesn't wish Microsoft invented the iPad.
Photo: Fox News

February 11: Today in Apple history: iPad fails to impress Bill Gates February 11, 2010: With iPad excitement reaching a fever pitch, Steve Jobs’ old frenemy Bill Gates wades in with his own opinion of Apple’s tablet.

The Microsoft co-founder’s view? The upcoming device is kinda meh.

“There’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, ‘Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it,'” Gates tells one interviewer.

Bill Gates dismisses iPad

Gates’ comments came two weeks after Jobs showed off the iPad publicly for the first time. Shortly after that, the Apple tablet caused a big buzz again when Stephen Colbert used a prerelease iPad to read nominations during the Grammy Awards show.

By this point, Gates was far more heavily involved in philanthropy than tech, having stepped down as Microsoft CEO a full decade earlier. Nonetheless, it came as no surprise that a journalist would ask him about Apple’s latest “must have” gadget. And that’s exactly what long-time tech reporter Brent Schlender did. (Schlender previously conducted Jobs and Gates’ first joint interview in 1991.)

Gates had some personal investment in the tablet concept, since Microsoft helped pioneer the form factor of the “tablet PC” years before — with limited commercial success.

“You know, I’m a big believer in touch and digital reading, but I still think that some mixture of voice, the pen and a real keyboard — in other words a netbook — will be the mainstream on that,” Gates said. “So, it’s not like I sit there and feel the same way I did with iPhone where I say, ‘Oh my God, Microsoft didn’t aim high enough.’ It’s a nice reader, but there’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, ‘Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it.'”

How have Gates’ predictions held up?

In some ways, it’s easy to judge Gates’ comments harshly. Certainly, viewing the iPad as merely a “reader” ignores much of what would make it Apple’s fastest-selling new product when it went on sale a few months later. His reaction is reminiscent of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s infamous laughter at the iPhone (one of the biggest misjudgments in tech history) or Gates’ own prediction of doom for another top-selling Apple product, the iPod.

Still, Gates was not necessarily wholly wrong. In the years since, Apple worked to improve the functionality of the iPad by, among other things, adding a pen, keyboard and voice-activated Siri to the mix. The idea that you can’t do real work on an iPad has mostly faded away by this point.

Microsoft, meanwhile, went even further (although with less commercial success) by fusing its mobile and desktop/laptop operating systems.

What do you think of Gates’ comments with the benefit of hindsight? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


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