Bill Gates: Steve Jobs "did something better than I did" in designing the iPad

Bill Gates says that even though Microsoft came up with the idea of a tablet well before Apple, Steve Jobs "did something better than I did" in Apple's design for the iPad. He adds, though, that he believe the Microsoft Windows 8 Surface tablet "will change the rules" of computing.

Gates said all that and more during a lengthy interview with Charlie Rose last night. Much of the interview was about Gates's philanthropic work, but Gates also spent some time talking about computing, particularly PCs and tablets.

Rose asked Gates about Microsoft's work on its unsuccessful slate tablet years befor the iPad was released. Gates said that Microsoft's work on tablets was:

"Way too early...a few things could have been done differently...You can have something that was almost good enough that was forgotten for all time, but then the thing that crosses that threshhold, even if it comes later, is gigantic."

In this instance, the thing that came later, of course, was the iPad. When asked why Jobs succeeded in tablets, while Gates didn't, Gates answered:

"He did something 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 you know, as thin, they weren't as attractive as what came along."

Gates, though, said this about Microsoft's just-announced Windows 8 Surface tablet:

Now Microsoft has something that may change the rules again. It fuses the best of both worlds.......This is a seminal event of taking the best of two worlds (PCs and tablets) and bringing them together."

Gates also praised Microsoft's decision to design its own hardware as well as have hardware partners design and sell Windows 8 tablets:

You can have the best of both worlds: You can have a rich ecosystem of manufacturers and you can have a few signature devices (designed by Microsoft) that show off, wow, what's the difference between a tablet and a PC?

Gates was certainly right that Apple and Steve Jobs did a better job than Microsoft in designing a tablet. But he's wrong that the Windows 8 Surface tablets will "change the rules" or be a "seminal event."

I expect the Surface Pro tablet to sell well in enterprises, and compete well against the iPad there. But it's certainly not going to change the technology world in the way the iPad did. And Windows RT-based Surface tablets, because of their high costs, won't likely compete well against the iPad.

Still, it was striking to see Gates admit that Jobs bettered him in tablet design. People as competitive and successful as Gates rarely admit something like that, and it was refreshing to hear.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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