Microsoft's Former Windows Chief Admits Apple's iDevices were seen as an Existential Threat to their core Business
Back in March 2014 Patently Apple posted a report titled " Steve Ballmer Laughs no more at Apple's iPhone Revolution." It was a journey back in time to April 2007 when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was interviewed by USA TODAY. Ballmer was asked what he thought of the coming iPhone from Apple. He conceitedly laughed it off. Ballmer stated at the time that "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It's a $500 subsidized item.
Ballmer continued his misguiding thinking by stating: "They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I'd prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get."
Looking back, Ballmer laughs no more. Missing the next-wave of the internet with Netbooks running Windows 8 cost Ballmer and Microsoft's Windows Chief their jobs
Ten years ago this week, Apple introduced the iPad and interestingly The Verge chose to interview Former Windows chief Steven Sinofsky to get his perspective of how Microsoft was stunned at the iPad and iPhone.
Microsoft tried to make tablet PCs a thing with Windows XP, but the company didn’t get the timing, hardware, and software right in order to succeed. So when Apple unveiled its iPad in 2010, it surprised many people inside Microsoft.
Sinofsky admits that the iPad was "as much a challenge as magical," especially as Microsoft had been "fixated on Win32 [desktop apps], pen, and more" over a period of a decade. Sinofsky revealed that "The success of iPhone blinded us at Microsoft as to where Apple was heading."
It appeared that Microsoft assumed that Apple would simply try to follow Microsoft's lead with netbooks and come out with a cheap mac device that offered a plain plastic stylus. They weren't expecting something as sophisticated as the iPad that simply used to touch on a display to operate.
Steve Jobs unveiled something that Apple described as a third category of device between a smartphone and a laptop, and it mocked the 40 million Netbooks that had been sold.
Sinofsky noted that "PC brains were so wedded to a keyboard, mouse, and pen alternative that the idea of being productive without those seemed fanciful."
Sinofsky went on to explain that "The iPad and iPhone were soundly existential threats to Microsoft’s core platform business. Without a platform that Microsoft controlled and developers sought out, the soul of the company was 'missing.'"
The iPad clearly unnerved Microsoft and the Windows team, and Sinofsky reveals that knowing Apple’s tablet ran a full, robust OS "had massive implications for being the leading platform provider for computers." For more on this part of the report, check out the report by The Verge.
Apple's iDevices not only unhinged Microsoft, but clearly damaged their partners like Dell, HP and others that basically didn't have any hardware from Wintel that could compete with Apple's revolutionary iDevices.
A decade later and Microsoft is finally gearing up their counter attack against Apple's iDevices that will finally give Wintel partners something that could counter the iPhone and iPad with consumers and more importantly, the enterprise.
After a decade of having their image damaged by Apple's mobile revolution, Microsoft has admirably reinvented itself with their Azure cloud business. Their Surface hardware however continues to sputter without it leaving a scratch on Apple's mobile devices market.
The next-generation of Surface devices, being foldable devices, is an effort to pull ahead of Apple's iDevices with consumers and enterprise customers and to make the Wintel platform a challenger once again. Only time will tell if they could finally deliver something that actually take on Apple's mobile devices.
With Apple just delivering a new record for iPhones sales for their fiscal Q1 2020 quarter, the popularity of Apple's iDevices are showing no sign of slowing down.
To learn a little more behind the scenes about how the iPad came to be, you could check out Walter Isaacson's biography titled 'Steve Jobs' at a library if you don't own it. I'll recount just one tiny fragment from the book about the birth of the decision to create the iPad. On Page 467 the book recounts:
"One of the engineers developing a tablet PC at Microsoft was married to a friend of Laurene [the wife of Steve Jobs] and Steve Jobs, and for his fiftieth birthday he wanted to have a dinner party that included them along with Bill and Melinda Gates. Jobs went, a bit reluctantly. 'Steve was actually quite friendly to me at the dinner,' Gates recalls, but he 'wasn't particularly friendly' to the birthday guy.
Gates was annoyed that the guy kept revealing information about the tablet PC he had developed at Microsoft. 'He's our employee and he's revealing our intellectual property,' Gates recounted. Jobs was also annoyed, and it had just the consequence that Gates feared.
As Jobs recalled: 'The guy badgered me about how Microsoft was to to completely change the world with this tablet PC software and eliminate all notebook computers, and Apple out to license his Microsoft software. But he was doing the device all wrong. It had a stylus. As soon as you have a stylus, your dead. This dinner was like the tenth time he talked to me about it and I was so sick of it that I came home and said, 'Fuck this, let's show him what a tablet can really be.'
Jobs went into his office the next day, gathered his team, and said, 'I want to make a tablet, and it can't have a keyboard or a stylus. Users would be able to type by touching the screen with their fingers.'" You could read more about the iPad in Isaacson's book.
It's kind of amazing that one loose-lipped engineer opened his mouth too many times pushing Jobs to license their software. The guy's conceit drove Apple's CEO mad enough to set him on a course that would go on to sink Microsoft's hope for a winning mobile platform for more than a decade.