Microsoft can be forgiven if it's looking at Apple's iPad announcement today with more than a little envy. Microsoft has been pushing tablet technology for at least a decade, and spent hundreds of millions of dollars in development costs to no avail. And now Apple has stolen its thunder with a flashier, more exciting, and less expensive product.
Bill Gates has been talking about tablet computing for at least a decade. Back in 2001, for example, Gizmodo says he told CNN,
"The tablet takes cutting-edge PC technology and makes it available whenever you want it...It's a PC that is virtually without limits --- and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America."
Ooops. Gates may have gotten many things right through the years, but he clearly was wrong on that prediction.
Even though tablets didn't catch on, Microsoft still kept spending money on them. Back on 2003, CNN reported that Microsoft had spent $400 million to build a tablet PC for Windows XP. Microsoft predicted that between 500,000 and 1 million tablet PCs running Windows would sell in a year...one more prediction that didn't happen. And Gates said:
"I think if you go out five years from now, and look at portable computers, virtually all of those will have this tablet capability."
The problem was simple: The Windows-based tablets were very expensive, and people didn't want them. CNN reviewed the Fujitsu Stylistics tablet back in 2003, and it carried a whopping $2,200 base price.
Over the years, a market developed for tablet PCs, but it was a niche rather than a mass market --- notably in healthcare and for transportation-related industries. Windows-based tablets simply never caught on.
There's no way to know whether the iPad will succeed. But you can be sure they're not happy in Redmond today.