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Bill Gates credits the iPad, but says Surface tablets will be a game changer

by David Needle

July 3 2012

Bill Gates shows off an early Windows Tablet PC
Bill Gates shows off an early Windows Tablet PC

For many consumers the iPad is synonymous with tablets, but most probably don’t realize Microsoft showed off the first Tablet PC back in 2001.

Microsoft’s hardware partners have offered Windows-based tablets ever since, but they’ve never achieved more than a niche status while the iPad burst on the scene in 2010 and never looked back, quickly gaining a majority share of the market.

In an interview on the Charlie Rose show on PBS yesterday, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates admitted the iPad was simply better than anything Microsoft had done with tablets up to that point. 

“He (Apple’s Steve Jobs) did something better than I did,” said Gates. “His timing when it came out, the engineering work .... the tablets we had done before weren’t as thin and as attractive as what came along. 

He recalled that Microsoft could have done a few things differently to help Tablet PCs gain more of a critical mass, but the key advantage Apple had was advances in technology and the foresight to take advantage of them. 

“You can have something almost good enough that is forgotten for all time and the thing that just crossed that threshold, even though it was later, is fantastic,” said Gates. 

Get ready for Surface

But Gates has been around long enough to see once hot companies and technologies fail and others take their place. He think Microsoft has a great shot at making a comeback in tablets with its forthcoming line of Surface devices. 

“Now Microsoft has something that may change the rules again,” said Gates. 

While the PC and tablet markets have been distinct, Gates says the advantage of Windows 8 tablets is going to be that they include the best features of each platform. When Rose asked Gates if people will stop buying PCs in favor of Surface tablets, he seemed to agree that there could be some cannibalization. 

“Whatever you call Surface [i.e., a PC or a tablet] they will want to have it,” said Gates.

“My bias is yes this is a seminal event in taking the best of two worlds,” said Gates. “It’s a wonderful thing. I can’t wait until it’s shipping and everybody can sit and play with it because that’s the only way you can understand what we’re saying about it.” 

The first Microsoft Surface and other Windows RT tablets from Microsoft's hardware partners are due out later this fall.

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