What it is that constitutes a personal computer has changed over the years, and especially in recent history with mobile form factors taking a strong hold in the marketplace. And for a blip in time, it seemed as though tablets were poised to replace traditional PCs (desktops, laptops, all-in-ones), with Apple’s iPad family leading the charge. But now? Tablet shipments have plummeted, and according to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, the iPad is not a “real computer.”
Nadella playfully let his feelings be known when he spotted a couple of journalists wielding iPad tablets as he was getting ready to present a keynote at the India Today Next Conclave. He is in the midst of a tour to promote his new book “Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Image a Better Future for Everyone,” which as the long winded title suggests is about Nadella’s attempt to evolve Microsoft.
As Nadella entered the room alongside Microsoft India boss Anant Maheshwari, he turned to one of the journalists and said, “You need to get a real computer, my friend.”
He was not being mean spirited, though make no mistake, there is some truth in how Nadella feels behind the lighthearted ribbing. Back in 2016, Nadella mocked Apple for trying to imitate Microsoft’s Surface line of 2-in-1 devices with the iPad Pro.
“The key in any momentum we have is that you have to have some amount of boldness in taking risk, and knowing that you are not always going to get it right,” Nadella told The Australian Financial Review in an interview. “I mean, take Surface. Three years ago, the two-in-one as a form factor was questioned. Does anybody need one? And now guess what, even our competition has decided that it’s not a refrigerator and a toaster, but it’s actually a two-in-one.”
Nadella was referencing when Apple CEO Tim Cook previously said, “You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but you know those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user. So our view is that he tablet market is huge.”
More recently, Microsoft’s Ryan Gavin sort of doubled down on Nadella’s comments when he called the iPad Pro a “clear example” of Apple following in the company’s footsteps.
“Think about it, if we had been looking at [Apple] we wouldn’t have made a product like Surface Pro or Surface Book,” Gavin told Business Insider. “We have been learning and perfecting our products in the 2-in-1 category for years now, [but] when Surface initially launched everyone was skeptical, including them. And then they followed, and the iPad Pro is a clear example of that.”
It is clear that Microsoft and Apple see the market a bit differently from one another. In a way, Microsoft is trying to find itself in a new era of computing, and part of the process means facing some hard truths. One of those truths is that it cannot compete with Apple and Google in smartphones, which Nadella acknowledged earlier this year. But when it comes to mobile computing on a “real” PC, that is a domain that Microsoft is still very much a part of, and confident in.