Gates weighs in on the iPad: nice, but not real nice

There’s been a lot of criticism of Microsoft’s alleged lack of innovation lately, but they’ve got an excuse: the lethargy of the mega-corporation. Apple’s no nimble startup, but they’ve made a point of doing just a few things well, and innovation and refinement have been their strong points. The iPad seems to be merely refined, and that’s a relief to Bill Gates. I actually am not familiar to Gates’ reaction to the iPhone, but he sums it up here well enough as well. Here’s his take:

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,” he said. “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 pretty much sums it up, right? I think he’s right on the money. It’s going to be a great device, but it’s very limited when you compare it to the aspirations of other tablet makers, and people at Google who want to put an lightweight and complete OS on a tablet. Microsoft can actually breathe easier now that the iPad is a known quantity — they feel they can do better, unlike (as Bill seems to imply) with the iPhone, which totally rattled them.

The author of the piece (who quotes Bill from conversation) seems to think Apple has invented a new class of devices. Well, no, that class has been around for a while, they just haven’t really worked. Apple’s works, but it’s not really in the class. Think of laptops as “formal” and smartphones as “casual” — what we want is semi-formal or business casual, but instead we have the iPad: a tuxedo t-shirt.