Former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates has been a strong advocate for tablet computing for nearly a decade. Back in 2001, he famously told CNN: The tablet takes cutting-edge PC technology and makes it available whenever you want it…It’s a PC that is virtually without limits — and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America.
Tablet computing never caught on, and Gates’ prediction couldn’t have been more off base if he tried. Still, Gates always remained a fan of the tablet form factor, and is probably one of the few individuals who still uses a tablet on a regular basis.
Apple’s upcoming iPad is looking to do what Bill Gates and Microsoft failed to do – make tablet computing a mainstream technology. Seeing as how Apple is joining the party years after Microsoft got the ball rolling, Brent Schlender of bnet talked to Bill Gates to get his initial impressions on Apple’s foray into a product market that Gates undoubtedly assumed Microsoft would own by 2010.
“You know, I’m a big believer in touch and digital reading,” Gates said, “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 continues, “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.’”
Interesting stuff for a few reasons.
For starters, it’s interesting that Gates is still holding out hope for a tablet experience combining voice controls, a pen input, and a real keyboard. Not to insult the man or anything, but that seems pretty ridiculous as the accumulation of all previous tablet failures and the success of Apple’s iPhone strongly suggests that pen input will never catch on. Voice controls, meanwhile, might be a cool feature to show off, but it will never become the default way of interacting with technology.
Gates, though, was still clinging to his idea of what a tablet should be as recently as 2007 when he exclaimed at the All Things D conference:
I believe in the tablet form factor. I think you’ll have voice. I think you’ll have ink. You’ll have some way of having a hardware keyboard and some settings for that. And then you’ll have the device that fits in your pocket, which the whole notion of how much function should you combine in there, you know, there’s navigation computers, there’s media, there’s phone. Technology is letting us put more things in there, but then again, you really want to tune it so people know what they expect.
Voice, ink, and a keyboard? All on a device that fits in your pocket? Bill, Bill, Bill….
On a different note, it’s fascinating to hear what Gates’ initial impressions of the iPhone were when it was first announced. Also interesting that he wishes Microsoft would have aimed higher. I mean, it’s not like Microsoft had years of experience making a Mobile OS. Oh wait..
Gates’ comments seem encapsulate everything that’s wrong with Microsoft. Lofty ideas for products that never come to fruition with a focus on selling a ton of products instead of focusing on creating the best products (i.e aiming high). To this day, Steve Ballmer seems more concerned with getting Windows Mobile onto as many ‘smartphones’ as possible than he is with actually ensuring that Windows Mobile is a worthwhile OS. That strategy of volume over quality may have worked for Microsoft in the past, but that line of thinking demonstrably doesn’t apply to the smartphone market.
When the iPod was first announced, it wasn’t exactly greeted with enthusiastic fanfare – “Another MP3 player?”, people groaned. So while It’s still too early to tell whether or not the iPad will be a success, in a few years we may very well look back at the initial reaction to the iPad and marvel at how so many people, including Bill Gates, got it all wrong.