Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft and now a leading global philanthropist, was the guest on the Charlie Rose show this past Monday night (July2). Although Gates is a fascinating figure and a hugely intelligent guy, he had some awfully stupid things to say when asked to compare the iPad with the sometime-to-be-released Surface PC/Tablet.
After Gates and Rose talked about some of the wonderful work the Gates Foundation is doing to tackle a number of critical global issues, at about the 30 minute mark of the interview, Rose started asking him about the tablet market.
When asked about why the iPad was successful while Microsoft’s tablet efforts back in the early 2000s weren’t, Gates talked about the timing in terms of when it came out being better and the iPad being thinner and more attractive. Rose even used the word ‘prettier’. Then they got onto talking about Surface – Microsoft’s still not released hybrid PC/Tablet device. This is where things got really interesting and where Gates got really stupid. Here’s my quick transcription of this section of the interview – it may not be word-for-word correct but I believe it’s very close:
Rose: But there’s one difference in what Surface does. Basically what Steve Ballmer said was in a sense what’s different about Surface, according to the press, is that it can be not only a receiving tablet but also a creative tablet. You can use it to create things from.
Gates: That’s right.
Rose: And the argument was you can’t do that as well …
Gates: You can’t. That is absolutely right. That’s why the PC category and the tablet category have been separate and here you have something that fuses the best of both.
Rose: So what does that mean for the PC?
Gates: That it’s the best, that it gets the benefit of being a tablet.
Rose: Yeah but if the Surface works really well is that going to eliminate people wanting to have a PC?
Gates: Well, whatever you call Surface, they will want to have it.
So Gates has trotted out the tired old argument, which has long ago been effectively refuted, that the iPad is merely a ‘consumption’ device – not a device on which things can be created. I’m still a little shocked that Gates was silly enough to do this. Ballmer doing it was one thing, but Gates always struck me as smarter than this.
Here’s just a quick little off-the-cuff list of things that somebody might want to point out to Gates about the iPad as the less capable creation device:
— Parents and educational institutions rave about the positive impact the iPad has with autistic and learning challenged students. It’s also got great momentum in the education arena in general – being adopted for use by teachers and students from kindergartens to blue-chip universities.
— David Hockney and numerous other traditional and digital artists round the world have created stunning works of art on the iPad. Hockney’s iPad creations were featured at Britain’s Royal Academy earlier this year.
— Musicians are using the iPad heavily in both the creative and production sides of making albums.
— Over 90% of the Fortune 500 are either deploying or piloting iPads. SAP, one of the world’s leading software companies, has deployed over 15,000 iPads to their global employees. Gates might want to note that these companies are not deploying iPads for their staff to watch movies on.
— Pro teams in the NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA and other leagues are using iPads for scouting, as playbooks, and more.
— Major commercial airlines are using the iPad as electronic flightbags used by pilots.
— The iPad is used by goverments and agencies round the world – from Germany’s parliament to the President of the United States, who uses them in his daily Presidential briefing – as do other White House staff members.
— The iPad is being used heavily in the healthcare arena as well – for a wide range of purposes.
Here’s what Surface is being used for:
It has not even shipped yet. It doesn’t have a shipping date. It doesn’t have a price.
The Surface may well end up being an impressive hybrid device – but it’s beyond ridiculous for Gates to say that it is a better device for creation than the iPad or to imply that the iPad is just a device for ‘receiving’. The iPad has a long-established track record as a versatile, powerhouse device for creation and productivity in an enormous range of fields. Especially when he’s comparing it to a device that is not being used, and cannot be used, for anything at all right now.