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How Microsoft REALLY reacted to iPad

Steve Jobs introduces first iPad
Steve Jobs introduces first iPad (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Today is the tenth anniversary of iPad's announcement.
  • Steven Sinofsky was head of Windows for Microsoft at the time.
  • He's been tweeting his reaction from January 27, 2010.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the very first iPad unveiling and it was a big day for Apple. But it was a big day for Microsoft, too. And that's something driven home by the company's former head of Windows, Steven Sinofsky. He's been tweeting his thoughts from this day ten years ago and they make for interesting reading.

In the weeks and months before the arrival of iPad, many had been discussing whether it would be a larger iPod touch or a touch-based Mac. Microsoft wondered that as well, but it fell heavily on the side of a Mac with a pen-based interface. After all, that's exactly what Microsoft had been trying to sell for years. Why would Apple do anything any differently?

Because it's Apple, of course.

Microsoft was big into netbooks at the time, too. Small, light, underpowered notebooks that nobody really wanted but were much cheaper than the MacBook Air. And when Jobs went after netbooks during the iPad announcement, Sinofsky amazingly thought that Apple calling netbooks "cheap computers" was a good thing. Even though Microsoft knew that they were just a stopgap.

But the longer the Apple special event went on, the more worried Microsoft became. Jobs went through everything iPad could do. And when it came time to drop the 10-hour battery life bombshell, it was clear netbooks couldn't compete.

Steve Jobs and iPad

Steve Jobs and iPad (Image credit: Apple)

Sinofsky goes on to explain how people, at the time, were hung up on iPad being a device for consuming data and content, but not creating it. To this day that remains a complaint leveled at iPad, even with the arrival of mouse support, improved windowing and multitasking, and superb creative apps.

Ultimately, Sinofsky is absolutely spot on with one of the final tweets in a long thread that has entertained us all today – Microsoft's lack of support from developers caused the company problems that Apple and iPad simply didn't have.

When iPad started at $499 and went straight up against netbooks, everything changed. Netbooks are long gone, but here we are, ten years later. And iPad continues to go from strength to strength.

Oliver Haslam
Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

  • Netbooks are still around. They are now called Chromebooks.
  • Chromebooks are just browsers in a box. They do less than Netbooks and way less than iPads.
  • Kind of hard compare technologies a decade apart. Netbooks did everything a normal Windows PC did, they just did it very slowly. Chromebooks can do a heck of a lot of what a PC can do today, maybe as much as a PC could a decade ago, but using cloud technology that didn't exist when netbooks were in style.
  • The problem with Netbooks wasn't the hardware itself, it was the fact they came with the massive OS that is Windows. I had a netbook, and once I'd installed Linux onto it, the speed difference between Windows was night and day, plus if you needed Windows apps you could use WINE
  • Mouse support hasn't really arrived to the iPad, it's an accessibility feature designed for people who struggle with motor functions. The iPad is in a bit of an odd situation at the moment, they released the iPad "Pro" despite it only being able to do some Pro functions. Web development, professional video editing, music, software development etc is still difficult to do on an iPad due to either the lack of freedom or due to the lack of the ideal professional apps (Logic, Final Cut, VS Code, Xcode). Office work is fine, as we have Office 365, Google Docs, and iWork. Photography work is in a good place, as we have Photoshop and Affinity Photo, but other areas struggle for real professional apps, and software/web development needs access to the terminal and open-source tooling (like Homebrew for macOS)
  • It’s Pro but not Apple’s usual heavy-Pro market. Don’t forget drawing/design that’s good but I can’t see real Pro video on it without some really cool wireless storage magic.
  • So what exactly are "Pro" functions? There is a list there of things that are 'difficult' to do on an iPad, but are these what define 'Pro'? Office is said to be fine, but are those making use of these not "Pro's"? Isn't the technical definition of Pro/Professional, someone who makes a living at it? If I make a living writing with a pencil on paper, is that a pro pencil and pro paper, or is it just pencil and paper used by a professional? Maybe Pro, is just a word used by marketing to imply higher quality, more capability, and associated higher cost.
  • The thing is, other "Pro" computers are capable of doing as many professional functions as possible, generally computers attempt to be able to do as many different tasks as possible given the hardware, whereas the iPad is limited to what it can do, almost purposely at this point as not even Apple provides its own professional software like Logic or Final Cut, they do provide iWork but that's it. Maybe my expectations are wrong, but unlike a Mac, you'd have to decide what your profession is and whether the iPad is capable of handling it
  • I was about to say Chromebooks is the spiritual successor to netbooks. Can do most of the basic stuff easily. Even Microsoft built a limited windows surface pro X that does most basic programs but not all programs. Meanwhile iPad just evolved along the way and showed off how powerful a mobile chip can become. Running fortnite at 120fps at 120hz, not fan cooled, unplugged for about 2 hours. And gaining more integration into the system by being a sidecar. Someday it will work more like a laptop, just not yet, maybe still better than other hybrid systems.
  • I think you misunderstand what Surface ProX is. It is not a limited device that runs basic programs. It runs 'all' Windows programs compiled (or recompiled) for ARM. It also runs 32 bit native/legacy Windows programs. It does not run 64Bit. You could say the same about the limitation of the current MacOs which can't run 32Bit programs 'only' 64Bit. Surface ProX would be more like Apple creating an iPad that ran MacOS applications.
  • macOS not running 32-bit applications is a completely different thing. Apple purposely dropped 32-bit app support, they weren't forced to do it. Removing 32-bit app support meant that they could remove a large chunk of code which they don't have to maintain anymore, reduce the size of the OS and focus on more important things. By this point, every app should've been converted to 64-bit, it's 2020 after all. The Surface Pro X is not capable of running 64-bit apps because of the limitation of the processor, I don't believe there's anything more to it than that