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Bill Gates on the iPad: “A lot of those users are frustrated” – but we keep buying iPads

Sections: Features, iPad, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Opinions and Editorials, Originals, Windows

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BusinessInsider’s Jay Yarow reports that Bill Gates took a shot at the iPad while explaining Microsoft’s rationale for the Surface tablet PC Monday morning on CNBC.

Asked about the declining PC market, Mr. Gates agreed that tablets are growing in popularity, and predicted that it’s “going to be harder and harder to distinguish products” that are PCs versus tablets—the Surface being a prima facie example, combining the “portability of the tablet but the richness of the PC.”

As for iPad users, Mr. Gates contends that “With Windows 8, Microsoft is trying to gain market share in what has been dominated by the iPad-type device. But a lot those users are frustrated. They can’t type. They can’t create documents. 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. If you have Surface or Surface Pro, you have the portability of the tablet but the richness of terms of the keyboard, Microsoft Office of the PC”

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Only slight exaggeration there, as this heavy iPad user can attest. And indeed, Mr. Gates is right that an awful lot of production and content creation oriented iPad users are frustrated with the iPad’s limitations and angularities—the lameness of its select/cut/paste/copy editing functions, the lack of a user accessible file system and multitasking worthy of the name (ie: with side-by-side page views), no partial screen screenshots, no standard USB port and so forth.

However, the disconnect (in some aspects literal) is that we keep buying and using iPads in spite of the frustrations, and have largely shunned Microsoft’s Surface and other full Windows 8 supporting tablets, Apple selling some 19.5 million iPads in the last quarter while Microsoft’s Surface has presumably sold only in relatively small volumes—so small that Redmond has declined to release sales performance figures. However, Pocket Lint’s Jake Smith notes that according to estimates from research firm IDC in early May, Microsoft sold 900,000 combined Surface Pro and Surface RTs during the first quarter, moving Microsoft to a fifth place spot in tablet sales, with a 1.8% market share for the quarter. Smith adds that an interesting factoid from IDC was that the more expensive Surface Pro made up a large proportion of the 900,000 total Surface units.

Even though Mr. Gates is right that the Surface Pro, unlike the iPad, delivers a full range of desktop OS capabilities in a touchscreen tablet form factor, theoretically providing the user with a best of both worlds experience, it apparently is not selling well at all.

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How come? I think it’s partly because of price. The Surface Pro is expensive even by iPad standards; the base 64 GB Surface starting at $899, which is $100 more than Apple’s top-of-the-line 128 GB iPad’s WiFi version.

Office for iPad? Well, that ball (or Ballmer) is in Microsoft’s court, and there are workarounds. I personally don’t count the lack of Office as one of my manifold iPad complaints and grievances. So long as I can open Word files with third-party apps, which I can, I’m happy on that issue.

Here’s the thing. I can buy a 16 GB WiFi iPad 4 for $499, and since after two years of intensive use, my iPad 2′s 16 GB capacity is only half-used, that’s enough for me. The 16 GB iPad suffers no software support shortcomings compared to more expensive models, has a Retina display, and is a full-fledged iPad functionally. Microsoft’s 32 GB $499 Surface RT tablet offers little if any actual free data storage advantage over the 16 GB iPad, due to Windows 8 RT and associated apps’ relative bulk compared to the iOS, and the RT version of Windows is compromised functionally.

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Microsoft’s Surface Pro does offer the versatility and power advantages Mr. Gates says it does, but can’t come close to matching the iPad’s long battery life, and it costs a lot more than I’m comfortable paying for a machine with a non user replaceable battery.

Consequently, I’ll probably grit my teeth and buy another iPad as my next tablet.

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