I Think It’s Microsoft Who’s Frustrated

Confused Bill GatesBill Gates did a recent interview on CNBC, proclaiming that iPad users are frustrated. According to Bill Gates, “They can’t type. They can’t create documents. They don’t have Microsoft Office there.” To put it mildly, this is an “interesting” statement from someone who at one time was the face of the technology industry. Save for the fact that he is doing his best to save the company he founded, it appears that Mr. Gates has lost his touch on the reality of the technology market. Just for fun, let’s take apart his statements.

iPad users can’t type? Obviously the fact that the iPad doesn’t come with a built-in keyboard is not the issue here. We all know this. Bill Gates seems to think that if a device doesn’t come with a keyboard, then there must be no way to add one. Besides the Apple Wireless Keyboard option, there are hundreds of third-party keyboards that work with the iPad. It’s not like iPad users can’t use a keyboard, as they obviously have many options to choose from. You would think a technology company figurehead like Bill Gates would know this teensy-tiny detail. Additionally, his statement is highly peculiar considering that the Surface RT base model DOES NOT include a keyboard (although one would be hard-pressed to know this from all the flashy Surface RT ads with keyboards clicking and clacking all over the place). Is Bill Gates really that out of touch, or is he simply towing the company marketing line, no matter how dumb it is?

iPad users can’t create documents? I believe that if a salesperson wants to look somewhat competent when comparing and contrasting their own products against their competitions’ offerings, they must have at least some experience with their competitors’ products. Maybe Bill Gates has never really used an iPad. Then I could almost forgive him for making this statement. However, he is Bill Gates, so I can not cut the guy any slack. Seriously? Besides Apple’s $9.99 “Pages” app, there are many third-party choices for creating “documents” on an iPad. My 9-year old daughter could have told him that. Perhaps she should be Microsoft’s Chairman?

But maybe he meant Microsoft Office “documents”, which in typical Microsoft fashion, they must believe there are no other formats for word processing files. At least his third statement accurately describes the situation. True, Microsoft Office is not available on Apple’s iPad. But Bill Gates says this as if it is some sort of inherent flaw with the iPad. That is an extraordinary statement considering that the ONLY reason iPad users don’t have Microsoft Office is because Microsoft hasn’t released it for the platform. Well frickin’ DUH! Seriously, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. I’m done with this because it feels like I’m picking on an senile old man.

The bigger problem Microsoft must deal with is that besides Windows 8, they’ve pinned their future on a 57-year old technology: the computer keyboard. They must have missed the memo that a lack of keyboard on mobile devices is a feature, not a problem. If it were seriously a problem, would the iPad continue to set sales records? Perhaps people don’t really want a physical keyboard on their mobile devices. Mobile devices become just a little less mobile when they have a hunk of plastic hanging from them.

According to a report from IDC for the first quarter of 2013, Microsoft shipped only 900,000 units of their Surface line of tablets, which include both both the Surface RT and Surface Pro devices. Compare this to 19.5 million Apple iPads shipped, which beat expectations. That’s about 20 times as many iPads shipped than Microsoft devices. Consider as well that Microsoft’s users are so unhappy with Windows 8 that Microsoft just announced a reversal of their Windows 8 strategy. It doesn’t sound to me like users are frustrated with the iPad. Rather, perhaps it is Microsoft who is feeling the frustration.

Microsoft needs to come to grips with the reality of the market if they are to save their own skin. For all it is worth, Microsoft Office is still a huge cash cow for Microsoft. However, they are missing out on a huge revenue stream by keeping Office away from the iOS platform. It was obvious what Microsoft’s strategy was last year when a rumored version of Microsoft Office for the iPad mysteriously vanished. Microsoft probably realized that if users could get Microsoft Office on other platforms, there would be very little incentive for users to purchase a Microsoft mobile device. They were trying to leverage the dominance of their office software (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) to help bolster Windows 8/RT acceptance in the mobile device market. At the very least they were trying not to crush Windows’ chances. But this strategy is extremely risky. The longer they wait to deploy Microsoft Office to other platforms, the longer people have to get used to the idea of not needing Microsoft Office. For now Microsoft Office is still a force in the office productivity software market. But as users have begun to exodus Microsoft Windows, it won’t take much more for users to exodus Microsoft Office as well.

Microsoft is gambling everything on Windows 8 and they are using Microsoft Office as collateral. If they double-down on this strategy, they stand to lose everything.