While Fanboys Breathlessly Await Steve Jobs's Apple iTab, They Should Probably Thank Bill Gates Too

Published on October 5, 2009
by Kara Swisher


Way back in the fall of 2001, when BoomTown was but a less-aged version of myself, I attended a keynote speech at the now-defunct Comdex show in Las Vegas, where Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates continued to bang the drum for one of his long-running obsessions: The tablet computer.

“The tablet takes cutting-edge PC technology and makes it available whenever you want it, which is why I’m already using a tablet as my everyday computer,” Gates said at the time to the audience gathered at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. “It’s a PC that is virtually without limits and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America.”

Well, that did not happen.

But Gates did keep his promise about using a tablet–he kept on doing so and also harping on the topic all the time, with Microsoft even releasing a giant tabletop Surface several years ago and supporting multitouch in the coming Windows 7.

I recall Gates talking about the idea of how important the tablet is on innumerable occasions, more than any single concept I can recall.

It is ironic, then, that all the hype has suddenly and firmly coalesced around the particulars of the tablet that Apple (AAPL) will be unveiling in the coming months.

And now that CEO Steve Jobs is back fine-tuning the whole shebang, the obsession has moved into overdrive, punctuated only by endless stories about every single new app for the iPhone and fights over some of those new apps for the iPhone.

It’s a complete aside, but how ironic is it that Apple has somehow managed to make Google (GOOG)–the Skynet of the Internet–seem like a victim over this Google Voice shrillathon?

Back to the Apple tablet, which is playbook hype for iconic computer giant.

Besides being a secret project everyone in Silicon Valley seems to know about, the coming device is enjoying full-on breathless reportage of every single possible button and every possible feature, with every single bit of functionality parsed, dissected, masticated and spat back out.

But let’s be honest–in the end, this Apple tablet is probably going to be some kind of giant, sleeker, more glorified and doubtlessly niftier version of the iPod touch, called the iTab or the iPad or the iAmSoCoolAren’tI?, at three times the price.

Now, as it turns out, Microsoft (MSFT) is also at work on a table device, this time called the Courier.

This development became known recently after a demo video of it in use was somehow “leaked”–three guesses about which software giant in Redmond, Wash., put that out, and the first two don’t count!–to Gizmodo.

It seems to be some kind of tablet mixed with a journal mixed with a day planner, with a hinged two-page look. Digital writing and a stylus are involved, but also lots of touchscreen action.

Well, I say, good for Microsoft, and perhaps for Gates, who has now mostly disengaged himself from the day-to-day particulars of the behemoth he built, including the Courier.

Nonetheless, in all likelihood, Apple will still garner the most buzz in this tablet faceoff and will, more than likely, sell more.

A delicious irony, given that in their fascinating and long-running rivalry, it has usually been Jobs playing the hopeless dreamer and Gates the one who makes bank from the dreams of others.

No longer, which should make this round between Microsoft and Apple the most interesting of all.

Speaking of dreaming of dreams, it is always a good time to post the video of Susan Boyle singing “I Dreamed a Dream”:

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