Today in Apple history: iPad fails to impress Bill Gates

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Bill Gates Fox News
The iPad is nothing Gates wishes Microsoft had invented.
Photo: Fox News

February 11 Today in Apple historyFebruary 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.

His view? It’s kinda meh. “There’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, ‘Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it,'” he tells one interviewer.

Wading in to the iPad debate

Gates’ comments came two weeks after Steve Jobs had shown off the iPad publicly for the first time on January 27. Shortly after this, it 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 in tech, having stepped down as Microsoft CEO a full decade earlier. Nonetheless, it was no surprise that he would be asked about Apple’s latest “must have” gadget — which is exactly what long-time tech reporter Brent Schlender (who had previously been the reporter who conducted Jobs and Gates’ first ever joint interview in 1991.)

Gates had some personal investment with the tablet concept, since Microsoft had 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 a lot of what made it Apple’s fastest-selling new product when it went on sale a few months later. It is reminiscent of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s infamous laughter at the iPhone (one of the biggest misjudgments in tech history) or Gates’ own earlier doom prediction for another of Apple’s top-selling products, the iPod.

Still, he’s not necessarily wholly wrong. In the years since, Apple has worked to improve the functionality of the iPad by, among other things, adding a pen, keyboard, and voice-activated Siri to the mix. Microsoft, meanwhile, has gone 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.