Predicting the iPad Pro

What do you ship, and when do you ship it?

Steven Levy, in an article titled How Bill Gates Predicted the iPad Pro, writes:

The unresolved question is the one where Gates and Jobs diverged on their answers. Gates argued that tablets would become the norm, replacing the laptop. Jobs found success by creating a media delivery system that could, in a pinch, do some work. The serious stuff, you could do on a Mac.

Levy comes so close to hitting the key difference between Jobs and Gates, but fails to close that loop. Did Gates predict where the iPad is now heading when he thought up the Microsoft Tablet? Yes. Did Jobs also see that? I don’t know, but likely yes.

The difference isn’t what they thought about the future — the difference is what they launched.

What has always made Apple successful is knowing when something sucks. Let’s assume that Apple agreed with Gates’ assessment that tablets would eventually replace all laptops and more. Why release the first iPad without all the features?

Microsoft has always gone for all the features and has always struggled with that. Apple shipped the first iPhone without user installable apps and without fucking copy and paste. But it worked. Why? Because Apple knew it was the best thing they could ship given the hardware, software, and manufacturing limitations of the time. As things improved on those fronts, the devices started to gain more features. So they released the first iPad without all the features because it was the most amount of features they could release without making the device suck.

Now I hold in my hands an iPad Pro which is faster than my MacBook. A device which is, in many ways, more capable and versatile than any Mac. Had Apple waited six years to “admit” Microsoft and Gates was right?

I think not.

Apple waited until 2016 to ship the iPad Pro because that’s how long it took the technology to catch up to the vision. In 2010 Apple was able to ship something which glimpsed at the future, while not sucking completely. A device which still had value to users.

Now we have something which is tantalizingly close to the vision of a full laptop replacement, which is why the iPad is only going to take off from here. Gates predicted it, Kay predicted it, and Jobs likely saw it too. It just wasn’t possible until now — and that’s a large reason why Microsoft’s early entrants failed.

The key difference between Gates and Jobs isn’t the vision, it’s the patience, or if you prefer the unwillingness to ship something which isn’t great.

These products are not only just about what to ship, it’s just as important to know when to ship. Where Apple excels is in knowing when to ship and what to ship — while keeping the long game in mind.

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