Bill Gates changes his tune on Apple’s iPad, now that one surfaces running Windows
October 22nd, 2012
Daniel Eran Dilger
Bill Gates is really excited about the iPad now that Microsoft has copied it. But he wasn’t always so impressed with a thin tablet leveraging the ARM architecture to destroy the WinTel PC, particularly when Steve Jobs was showing off the original.
Gates was against it before he was for it
“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,” – Bill Gates, at the launch of Apple’s first iPad, 2010.
“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.’”
Ok, so this kind of sour grapes from an embittered Mr. Gates is understandable. But there’s something else that isn’t.
In 2010, while Microsoft feverishly tried to bring Windows Mobile closer to the iPhone, Gates was at least saying that the iPad was nothing to strive after. But he wasn’t telling the truth, because the core of Surface is an effort to copy the design of Apple’s iPad.
One can observe that the Surface is an iPad with a Smart Cover, albeit running an operating system that eats up more of its available storage and doesn’t run Apple’s iOS App Store titles, nor even Microsoft’s legacy library of x86 Windows software. But the truth is even bigger than that.
Even Gates can’t swallow this
Introduced by a deadpan presenter focusing on the “huge amount of excitement” around Windows 8, Gates appeared to be gagging on his own lines as he delivered a pep rally talk to the Microsoft faithful.
At one point, Gates appeared pained to relate how ordinary users want to “consume email,” particularly because “they want it to be awfully simple” and they now have expectations set by the multitouch interface popularized by Jobs, rather than Gates’ mouse and stylus-driven Windows with a Start button.
Gates talked about how unique and special it is that the Surface uses a keyboard, while dry heaving as if sickened by his own attempt to convince his audience to believe that the iPad lacks the ability to type, or connect to a keyboard, or that a mouse is “just so natural in most settings [when using a tablet].”
Through the entire video, he looks like a cat about to throw up a Bluetooth hairball of horseshit.
Gates claims credit for thinking about tablets in 2000, just 10 years after Apple
While trash talking the iPad as nothing special, Gates also loves to claim credit for having tried to do what Apple did, before Apple did it.
In July, Julie Bort of Business Insider wrote based on Gates’ comments, “Gates first demonstrated a tablet PC way back in 2000 and released a tablet OS version of Windows in 2005.”
Perhaps she wasn’t aware that following Gates’ 2000 demo of a Windows-based tablet concept, Microsoft’s tablet version of Windows arrived a decade after Apple brought its Newton MessagePad to market in 1994.
Apple started work on the MessagePad in the late 80s, so early that it had to co-create ARM, a new processor architecture appropriate for mobile devices, because no acceptable alternatives existed yet.
ARMed and dangerous (to WinTel)
The Surface “RT” uses the same ARM Architecture that Apple developed with Acorn to launch modern mobile devices over 20 years ago. This marks Microsoft’s first attempt to run its “full Windows” on an ARM device.
Previously, Microsoft spent years failing to copy Newton with Windows CE, a simple OS (technically unrelated to the desktop “full Windows,” with a different kernel and API architecture) that could run on ARM (WinCE is the basis for Windows Phone 7, KIN, Zune and the Auto PC inside Ford Sync).
Gates’ big epiphany on display in 2000 was not “the tablet,” as Bort wrote. It was that tablets should run the “full Windows,” not the scaled down WinCE Microsoft had failed to do anything valuable with in the late 90s or afterward.
This is evident from the first line of the PR statement Microsoft made following Gates’ 2000 demo: “First and foremost, the Microsoft vision for a Tablet PC is that it’s a full Windows computer.”
“Full Windows” was the problem for Tablet PC, not the solution
The problem was that Microsoft’s “full Windows” required an Intel x86 CPU. This is what killed the Gates Tablet PC (as envisioned below by Microsoft in 2000). Intel’s chips weren’t as good as ARM for mobile applications in 2000, and still weren’t in 2010 when Apple released the ARM-based iPad.
While Apple ported its OS X to ARM in 2007 for the iPhone, Microsoft didn’t even realize this was important until 2010, when it first announced a Two Year Plan to deliver a version of Windows 8 capable of running on ARM. It’s now bringing this to market more than five years after Apple.
The development of ARM was so important that that back in 2006, when cnet.co.uk reviewed a new Samsung Q1 (a second generation Microsoft “UltraMobile PC” product based on an x86 Intel chip required to run the “full Windows”) against the 1997 Apple Newton MessagePad 2000, it awarded the decade old Newton as the overall winner, in large part due of the superior mobile characteristics of the ARM-based Newton.
Microsoft wasn’t a decade early in tablets. It was more than a decade late in 2000! And ten years later, it would continue to lag Apple by years in the whole recognition of how important ARM was. How does a person who writes for “Business Insider” not know this?
Gates bought Apple technology just to catch up
Not only was Microsoft very late to the 90s Tablet Party, but it had also directly benefitted from Apple’s previous work in the field (and not just in relation to ARM).
In 1998, Microsoft broadly licensed technology from General Magic, a tablet engineering startup that originated within Apple in 1990, was spun off, and eight years later transferred much of its technology to Microsoft before Paul Allen bought up most of its patents in its 2002 going out of business sale.
General Magic was a hotbed of innovation that the Old Apple didn’t quite know what to do with. In 1990, the team was competing for attention within Apple with the Newton group, which effectively won. While Newton wasn’t wildly successful, it did ship a real product.
General Magic and its partners tried to, but once they were compared against the Newton (and in particular its handwritten recognition that the General Magic “Magic Cap” products lacked) the game was over; Apple’s first choice beat its second discarded one.
General Magic is where Tony Fadell rose to prominence before heading to Philips to work on Windows CE devices powered by Microsoft. Fadell had the idea for the iPod, which Philips wasn’t so interested in, so he brought it to Apple, which used the idea to destroy Microsoft’s aspirations of using Windows CE to monopolize music playback. That’s a strategy that Microsoft was intently focused on after repeatedly failing to find another use for its “Windows in name only” mobile OS.
Another guy who worked at General Magic: Andy Rubin, who after three years at Apple spent three years at General Magic before joining WebTV in 1995 (which was purchased and destroyed by Microsoft in the late 90s), then founded Danger in 1999 (purchased and destroyed by Microsoft in the late 2000s), and then founded Android in 2003 (purchased by Google in 2005 to destroy Microsoft).
Rubin, at Google, is now trying hard to replicate Gates’ spectacular arrogance in pitting Apple’s technology against Apple while vilifying the original rather than according it a modicum of respect. Both Rubin and Gates are losing at this, if you count the game in dollars. Or in any other metric.
If “having the idea first” is so awesome, why were all of Microsoft’s products rip-offs?
I’m willing to bet Gates remembers the 90s better than I do, so it’s not exactly a misunderstanding of events that’s allowing him to now claim credit for thinking about the iPad 10 years earlier, when in reality he just bought Apple’s secondary team and failed to take it anywhere, the same way Microsoft also bought up WebTV and Danger and lots of other promising startups since the 1990s and did to them what Google is doing to promising startups today.
Yes, Bill Gates is lying about having invented the tablet, and he knows it. That’s why he leaves it up to ignorant journalists to pencil in the story from his broad, fictitious outline.
But even if you look at Gates’ actual, successful products, it’s hard to say they came from Gates’ brain. Windows? Please. The Xbox 360? It’s a PC version of the PlayStation. Windows NT he obtained from Digital, and so on.
Which there’s nothing wrong with, but you can’t then banter around how you actually had the idea for the iPad first, but couldn’t quite bring anything to market successfully because you only had the resources of the most powerful tech company on earth for a mere decade and a half leading up to it. Especially when you bought and or stole most of those ideas from the company you imply took your ideas and ran with them.
I mean, Mr. Gates, that’s quite below the stature of a man who ruled the PC with an iron fist for a decade and a half. Man up.
No shame in growth by acquisition, unless you incompetently just destroy billions of value
Saying Microsoft invented tablets is like saying it invented “natural user interfaces,” when in reality it just stole the graphical interface from the company that refused to license it, then licensed the digital pen technology Apple discarded in General Magic, then acquired a startup to catch up with the Wii and PlayStation in motion-controlled gaming.
Mr. Gates, you are not a visionary. You are a cutthroat accountant who knows how to write up one-sided business contracts that screw over everyone but yourself. That’s what you can claim credit for, because you did very well at that. But stop giving yourself credit for envisioning the original things other people actually created.
Also, your ability to buy ideas would be more impressive if you had a success rate closer to Apple’s near 1:1 acquisition to execution success rate (NeXT, Emagic, FingerWorks, PA Semi, Placebase, Lala, Quattro, Intrinsity, Siri, Poly9, Polar Rose, IMSense, C3, Anobit, Chomp).
How many ideas has Microsoft aquistroyed? Just recently: Danger (buried in the KIN fiasco) cost half a billion dollars, eQuantive cost $6 billion, and Microsoft even paid $8.5 billion for Skype, something Apple had essentially duplicated in-house in a matter of months, albeit with more modern and flexible technology behind its original FaceTime and iMessage products.
Mr Gates, your company looks like the path of destruction behind a nouveau riche asshole with a checkbook, not the product of a genius visionary who can execute. You’re no Steve Jobs.
Please return to giving away the money you collected and stop claiming to have invented anything important about tablets.