Gates wasn't talking about some closed, feature-limited, Flash-challenged, multi-touch Apple fan-boy toy. He believed that real, pen-based PCs running Windows would take over the world.
As with all his major predictions, Gates was wrong. Pen-based computers didn't dominate the PC market by 2006. But he was right about one thing. Tablet computers will take over and dominate the PC market one day. And Windows-based tablets will become a major market.
Just not this year. And not pen-based.
HP has demonstrated a new consumer product called the HP Slate, one that the company is positioning as a direct competitor to the Apple iPad and which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said would ship this year.
The HP Slate demos well, and the company appears to be on the right track. Unfortunately, it's very unlikely the Slate will succeed. It could have. It should have. But it won't. Here's why.
The HP Slate's feature set reads like a list of what's missing from the iPad, including:
Flash support USB port Removable flash storage Camera
According to a rumored leaked document acquired by the gadget blog Engadget, the HP Slate has a screen smaller than the iPad's, but one that may make the device easier to handle and also more compatible with HD movie aspect ratios. The screen is reported to be 8.9 inches screen with a resolution of 1024 x 600.
The Slate offers both a standard VGA port and an HDMI port, so HD videos and presentations can be displayed on a big TV without an adaptor. It has two cameras: One 3-megapixel camera on the back for taking pictures, and another lower-quality camera on the front for video-conferencing.
The Slate is powered by a 1.6 GHz Atom Z530 processor from Intel, and has a gigabyte of non-upgradable RAM.
HP CTO Phil McKinney said in a promotional video that the Slate is "a mainstream product, not a niche offering." And the leaked Engadget memo compares the Slate feature-for-feature with the iPad.
And this is the problem with the HP Slate. The company is trying to complete with a device that is fundamentally different.
The iPad runs what is essentially a cell phone operating system. It's designed exclusively for mobility. It's a touch smartbook, rather than a touch netbook.
The HP Slate, on the other hand, is running a desktop operating system -- Windows, no less -- plus an application interface layer that can only add to the processing and memory burden.
HP is trying to compete with the iPad on price. The Slate will start at $549. How does a PC match the price of a cell phone? You mis-match on performance. You add only 1 GB of RAM. You use an underpowered processor. You offer sucky battery life.
I'm not aware of a single Windows expert who recommends running Windows 7 on fewer than 2GB of RAM. The reason is that Windows 7 is a sluggish, unusable pig with only 1 GB.
Sure, the Slate has more memory and processing power than the iPad. But the iPad is a big cell phone. The Slate is a small PC. There is no conceivable way that the Slate can even approach the iPad's impressive overall performance running Windows 7 in 1 GB of RAM.
HP's demos imply that the Slate runs full Windows 7 applications. The Apple iTunes application, of all things, is highlighted in one demo. We can assume they'll be able to multi-task.
Can you imagine running Windows 7, plus an HP-designed UI layer, plus iTunes, plus Microsoft Outlook, plus Firefox, plus streaming video via the camera all at the same time in 1 GB of RAM?
Also note that the iPad is running a custom-designed processor, which exists to maximize iPad performance. The HP Slate will run a general-purpose processor.
The HP Slate's advantages -- Flash, USB, cameras -- are peripheral benefits. The iPad's advantages -- performance, battery life and app store -- are central and elemental.