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Gates: Jobs 'phenomenal,' Surface tablet will disrupt Apple

updated 04:00 am EDT, Wed July 4, 2012

Believes tablets have little role to play in education

Microsoft Founder Bill Gates was interviewed on the Charlie Rose program in an hour-long talk that aired on PBS stations on Monday, and which touched on a wide range of topics. Overshadowing much of the discussion, however, was the invisible presence of Apple's iPad -- the success that was born out of Microsoft's failure to create a market for such technology a decade ago.

Gates praised his rival and friend Steve Jobs' success with the iPad by saying that part of its success was due to "the package [of hardware and software innovations] he had put together" and dismissed his own company's failure to find success by saying he had the idea of a tablet PC "way too early." He also admitted that "there were a few things that could have been done differently" to make the early Windows tablets more successful.

With the recent unveiling of the Surface tablet (the name taken from another unsuccessful MS product), comparisons to the market-leading iPad were inevitable. Though Gates was unable to share any new information about the product (a disappointment to those hoping he would use the interview to discuss specific details, explain the lack of 3G or the ability to change orientation, or reveal the price and shipping dates), he said that the Surface may force Apple to rethink its own approach to the iPad, a reference to the latter's separate iOS operating system.

In addition to claiming that the Surface was "a completely new form factor" (but not elaborating on this notion), he suggested that the device -- which will be available in both a thin "Windows RT" mobile edition and a thicker, heavier "Windows 8 Pro" version -- will establish that companies don't have to (as Apple and Google have both done) create a tablet-specific OS that makes "compromises" for touch use and certain kinds of "heavy lifting" computing. "You can have everything you like about a tablet and everything you like about a PC all in one device. And so that should change the way people look at things," Gates said.

He was once again notably deferential and respectful of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs when the subject inevitably came up, admitting frankly that Jobs "did some things better than I did" on the tablet concept. Later, when discussing author Malcolm Gladwell's prediction that Gates would eventually be remembered more fondly than Jobs (mostly for the highly-regarded charity work Gates has done since retiring from day-to-day involvement with Microsoft), Gates largely brushed the notion aside.

He told Rose that Jobs had done "phenomenal" work "both when I partnered with him and when Microsoft competed with him, and that deserves to be remembered." He added that "I don't think anyone does the work they do based on how they think they'll be remembered" and mentioning that "the world's best companies are built by fanatics ... and when you're in your 20s and 30s, being fanatical comes easy."

He was clearly enthused about the possibility of Microsoft having a breakthrough product in the Surface tablet, and attempted to downplay reports of vendor hostility, which has resulted in some companies saying they won't use Windows RT on their tablets. He even -- hesitantly -- agreed that Apple may see enough pressure from the Surface's eventual success to have to build a direct competitor, though he tempered the idea by noting that the market had not made any decisions about the Surface tablet yet.

Gates also, in an earlier interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, made the risky prediction that tablets would not ultimately be seen as a good tool for the classroom compared to low-cost PCs. He cited a "terrible track record" with "just giving people devices." Seemingly unaware of the numerous studies that contradict his position, Gates -- who has long had a strong interest in improving education -- said that tablets like the iPad (and presumably his own Surface) will never work well in classrooms "where you don't have keyboard-type input."

"I mean, students aren't there just to read things," he added. "They're supposed to actually be able to write and communicate, and so this is a lot more in the PC realm." One of Gates' own suggestions is that technology like tablets could instead be used to reduce the amount of time students need to spend actually at school, though he was quick to mention the importance of at least occasional interaction with other students and "face-to-face time" with instructors.

by MacNN Staff




  1. Paul Huang

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Can you spell

    d e l u s i o n a l

  1. viktorob

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Is bill gates in drugs???

    Is he living in a underground bunker or how come he is so delusional? Can it be possible that his assistant is playing tricks on him feeding him wrong information?

  1. macnnoel

    Joined: Dec 1969


    content with mediocrity

    that has always been Microsoft's only real crime.

  1. baggy_pants

    Joined: Dec 1969


    What the?

    How is keyboard-type input a lot more in the PC realm? What a bizarre statement.

    Having said that, I'd need to see the transcript or interview, this site isn't exactly renowned for it's attention to detail and fact. Or grammar and spelling.

  1. Fonejacker

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Billy boy is wrong again, again

    Microcopy need to copy Apple again (what's new). With sales in excess of 30 million for the iPad, and zero sales of the Windows RT (Real Thin or Real Trash) and the Windows Pro 8. I'm not really convinced these are actual products, since there is no price or launch date. Most companies would have these two bits of info already prepared for the media and customers. More vapourware from Microsoft? Between Bill Gates and Steve Balmer, these two have become irrelevant and comical whenever they open their mouths. Sadly no one at Microsoft have the guts to tell them. Steve Balmer's presentation of the Surface seemed totally forced on him. Like the really didn't want to be there for some reason. Maybe he realised these would end up like the Zune.

  1. coffeetime

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Wondering why....

    MS is recycling the name Surface from other table Surface that costs $20,000....... an expensive equipment that is useless and it's just a toy.

  1. Foe Hammer

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Batting .001

    Gates doesn't exactly have a track record of even hand grenade-close predictions.

    A Surface Tablet? I can't wait to set my digital camera on it and watch them interact. Loads of fun.

    To invoke Dennis Miller, Bill Gates is a white cat away from being a Bond villain.

  1. BigMac2

    Joined: Dec 1969



    " will establish that companies don't have to (as Apple and Google have both done) create a tablet-specific OS that makes "compromises" for touch use and certain kinds of "heavy lifting" computing."

    I wonder how good could be a 10inch touch screen for running actual desktop apps like Office and Adobe CS. This is where Microsoft is continuing their mistaken approach of Tablet PC. The reason why Apple has split iOS and OSX plateform wasn't because of technical limitation but because you most force developers to retaught they're apps for a "completely new form factor", giving bridges between desktop apps and tablet apps will offer a diminished experience on tablet.

  1. noibs

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Talk is cheap...

    For most of the past decade, Microsoft, along with RIM, have been really big talkers. And that's all. Talk is cheap. Put up or shut up.

  1. ViewRoyal

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Tablet PC, part duh!

    The ARM version of Surface can't run Windows applications, and there are currently no Metro applications. So most Windows users will want the Intel version of Surface. But...

    The Intel version of Surface must use a keyboard and trackpad/mouse, and the stylus, in order to use Windows applications, since they are not multi-touch enabled. So what we have here is another attempt to sell people on the Tablet PC, which has been a failure since it was introduced in 2000.

    In addition, the Intel version of Surface will be priced similar to Ultrabooks. For the same price as an Ultrabook you get a tablet+keyboard combo that weighs as much as an Ultrabook, is thicker than an Ultrabook, has a slower Intel processor than an Ultrabook, has less RAM than an Ultrabook, has a much smaller SSD than an Ultrabook, has a floppy keyless keyboard, instead of a real keyboard like Ultrabooks, and has a 10" display instead of the Ultrabooks' 13" or 14" display.

    Oh, and Ultrabooks can be used on uneven surfaces, like your lap, while the Surface+keyboard combo can't. ;-)

    Maybe they'll come out with an Ultrabook that has a swivel display that you can use with just the stylus.

    Oh wait! That's the same thing as the Tablet PC! :-D

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