When Apple's Steve Jobs took the stage to announce Apple's new tablet, the iPad, it was obviously a moment of tremendous pride and personal satisfaction. To Jobs, the iPad was a fresh, ambitious new "magical" release from Apple that looked geared to become the next iPhone or iPod.
Despite that ambitious line of thinking, public reception since the event has been decidedly mixed. Criticism began with the tablet's name, which reminded many of a 2007 Mad TV skit (YouTube) about a feminine hygiene product from Apple that shared the same name. However, the criticism by many ran far deeper -- the input seemed clumsy, the device lacks the personalized support from the media industry that other Apple launches have had, 3G models are unavailable at launch, and the tablet doesn't support Adobe Flash, one of the integral components of the internet today.
Now Bill Gates has become perhaps the highest profile figure to date to offer criticism of the tablet. He states in an interview with BNET's Brent Schlender, "You know, I’m a big believer in touch and digital reading, but I still think that some mixture of voice, the pen and a real keyboard - in other words a netbook - will be the mainstream on that. So, it’s not like I sit there and feel the same way I did with iPhone where I say, 'Oh my God, Microsoft didn’t aim high enough.' It’s a nice reader, but there’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, ‘Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it.'"
That significant because Gates has acknowledged both publicly and privately when past Apple products wowed. Recently released emails from the now-settled antitrust case Comes v. Microsoft antitrust litigation chronicle Gates past frustrations.
Discussing Apple's high profile iTunes store launch in 2003, he writes to a fellow executive, "Steve Jobs ability to focus in on a few things that count, get people who get user interface right and market things as revolutionary are amazing things...However I think we need some plan to prove that even though Jobs has us a bit flat footed again we move quick and both match and do stuff better."
His fellow executive, Jim Allchin, was even more blunt. He writes, "We were smoked."
However, it's clear that Gates and many of the tech industry's biggest players went from being afraid of being "smoked" yet again by the latest and greatest Apple product, to being largely apathetic, post-iPad launch. And that's a troublesome sign for Apple.
For all his success, Jobs has had some painful misses. Most notably he championed Apple TV, a pet project which was never popular, even among the Apple faithful. Apple has let Apple TV quietly die down as its other recent stars -- the iPod Touch and iPhone -- stole the show. Will Apple perhaps do the same for the iPad? That remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure -- Bill Gates isn't losing any sleep over it.