Gates sticks to company line on tablets, knocks iPad

Neglects to say that the lack of Office on iOS is Microsoft's strategy, not Apple's

Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates today stuck to the company line on tablets, and disparaged rival Apple's iPad for its lack of a keyboard and its inability to run Office.

In an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box" program, Gates, who appeared alongside his friend and fellow billionaire, Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Gates was asked about the PC sales slump and the concurrent rise of tablets.

But if viewers were hoping for some new insight into Microsoft's strategy, they were to be disappointed, as Gates essentially parroted what others at the company have said previously.

"[Windows 8] takes the benefits of the tablet and benefits of the PC, and it's able to support both of those," said Gates, repeating the messaging Microsoft CEO Steve Baller and Tami Reller, CFO and head of marketing for the Windows division, have used numerous times.

Four months ago, for example, Reller pitched the Surface Pro, the Windows 8-powered tablet Microsoft had launched just days before, as a two-in-one device that could replace both an iPad and a MacBook Air notebook.

Gates followed suit today on CNBC.

"If you have Surface or Surface Pro, you have got the portability of the tablet but the richness of terms of the keyboard, Microsoft Office, of the PC," Gates said.

Not stopping there, Gates -- like Reller -- took it to the competition, though he never used the word "Apple" in his response.

"With Windows 8, Microsoft is trying to gain market share in what has been dominated by the iPad-type device," Gates said. "But a lot those users are frustrated. They can't type. They can't create documents. They don't have Office there. So we're providing them something with the benefits they've seen that has made that a big category but without giving up what they expect in a PC."

Microsoft's message has been called confusing and ineffective by some, premature by others. The latter group has pointed out that, other than the Surface Pro, there have been few sales winners from third-party OEMs in the "convertible" or "hybrid" markets -- classifications characterized by devices that can morph from notebook to tablet, then back again, or which include traits of both, although are exclusively neither.

Windows-powered tablets are reaching retailers and distributors, however, with shipment numbers estimated at between 1.6 million (by IDC's reckoning) and 3 million (according to U.K.-based research firm Strategic Analytics) during the quarter that ended March 31.

Gates also toed the line on Microsoft's position -- or lack of one -- on Office and iOS. By labeling the omission of Office on "iPad-type" hardware a negative, Gates implied that Microsoft's business application suite would not show up on the iPad anytime soon.

What Gates did not say, however, was that the iPad's inability to run Office was not Apple's idea, but a key part of Microsoft's apparent strategy to promote Windows and Windows tablets at the expense of the company's Business division's revenue.

A purported release roadmap seen by long-time Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley, who blogs for ZDNet, showed Office for iOS launching in October 2014, a year-and-a-half away. The consensus among analysts was that that would be a major mistake, one that eliminated potential revenue now and may miss the closing window of opportunity entirely as tablets shrink in size.

Gates also neglected to point out -- although Microsoft officials, including Ballmer, have -- that iPad owners can run some parts of Office via the bare bones online editions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word from within their Safari browser.

Monday's Gates-Buffett interview sported the U.S.'s two biggest billionaires, with the pair representing a combined fortune of more than $120 billion by Forbes' estimate.

This article, Gates sticks to company line on tablets, knocks iPad, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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