Bill Gates on iPad, Surface and Microsoft’s original tablet vision

Bill Gates was on PBS’s Charlie Rose show tonight and he got peppered with questions concerning the iPad’s gigantic success and why Microsoft’s original tablet vision fell short. Now chairman of Microsoft and a philanthropist, Gates gave honest answers and didn’t seem jealous of Apple’s success with the iPad as his sidekick Steve Ballmer evidently had been when he laughed off the iPhone back in 2007. Here are your key takeaways…

Gates envisioned tablet computing “way too early”, Gates confessed. Notwithstanding, Redmond managed to persuade Lenovo to create a tablet computer running a modified Windows version back in 2000.

It flopped.

Microsoft obviously didn’t get the memo that timing is everything.

When the world eventually caught up, Apple came with the right product at the right time, much to Microsoft’s surprise. Gates lavishes praise on Jobs and his iPad vision:

He did some things better than I did. His timing in terms of when it came out, the engineering work, just the package that was put together. The tablets we had done before, weren’t as thin, they weren’t as attractive as what came along.

The iPad exploded and took over the tablet market in no time. It’s now projected to supplant the notebook by 2016 as the primary mobile computer.

Gates and Jobs in a rare joint appearance at D7 in 2007, ahead of the iPhone’s U.S. debut.

What else?

According to the interview, Gates also learned that almost good enough is never enough:

What you see is something that is almost good enough that is forgotten for all time. Then the thing that just crossed that threshold — even though it came later — goes up and is gigantic.

And once you have critical mass, that’s when the power of the ecosystem creates virtually an impenetrable barrier, he observed.

What you see is this phenomena where when you get a device to critical mass, you get applications written to take advantage of that, then you get advantage in the hardware so you can bring the cost down.

But Gates is still Microsoft’s chairman so I wasn’t terribly surprised when he argued “Microsoft has something that may change the rules again” in a nod at his company’s freshly announced Surface tablet.

He also asked PC vendors not to be mad at Surface and the fact that Microsoft is now a tablet maker:

I actually believe you can have the best of both worlds. You can have a rich eco-system of manufacturers and you can have a few signature devices that show off, wow, what’s the difference between a tablet and a PC?

He actually kinda confirms Asus chairman’s assertion that the Surface is just a show-off temporary product to help drive Windows 8 adoption.

So, is it a PC or a tablet then?

You can have everything you like about a tablet and anything you like about a PC all in one device. This is a seminal event of taking the best of two worlds and bringing them together, 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 trying to say with it.

I guess he didn’t get the memo on the baggage of the PC.

The full interview runs 53 minutes long and is available (via Business Insider and BGR).

I’m sure as hell glad that Gates is no longer a douchebag who won’t give credit where credit is due. For the record, Gates only changed his stance on competition after he had stepped down as Microsoft’s CEO.

Did Gates’ nice words for Apple and the iPad come as a shock to you?