[Note: The original headline on this story was "Microsoft: iPad is "Humorous." Microsoft PR head Frank Shaw tweeted that he found that title misleading. After contacting him and listening to his complaint, we've changed the headline to make it more specific.]
It’s an understatement to say that Apple’s iPad generated a lot of chatter when it was announced on Wednesday; the scuttlebutt actually slowed down the Internet. Even Microsoft couldn’t help but weigh in, criticizing the iPad for being a “locked down device.”
“It is a humorous world in how Microsoft is much more open than Apple,” Brandon Watson, the director of product management in the developer platform at Microsoft, told me in an interview yesterday. With Microsoft’s platforms, developers can build whatever they want, and target a broad array of devices using the same skill set, he added.
Watson claimed that many developers of applications for the iPhone OS–which the iPad uses–are not making money. Developing applications for the iPhone and iPad is expensive, he said, because iPhone OS uses the Objective C language rather than Microsoft’s more pervasive .NET platform. And Apple’s control over the platform has alienated some people that make software for its products, he said.
It’s certainly true that there has been some griping about Apple’s development policies, and not every app is a winner. Facebook developer Joe Hewitt famously protested against the control Apple is exerting over its hardware (he is now praising the iPad), and argued that Apple is setting a “horrible precedent.” The Free Software Foundation protested the iPad on Wednesday for being an “unprecedented extension of DRM” into a new class of computers.
I think that the FSF’s argument may have merit, but Microsoft’s criticism misses the target altogether. What Apple has envisioned with the iPad isn’t a traditional PC–it’s more of an appliance. You don’t tinker with your television; you turn it on and consume services. The iPad’s Apps are like services. And despite what Watson said about iPhone developers failing to make money, some are clearly doing exceptionally well.
When Microsoft released its Tablet PC back in 2001, it grafted handwriting recognition onto Windows. That capability extended Windows into new (such as engineering and medical services), but the Tablet PC was still essentially a PC running Windows. Windows 7′s multitouch enhancements create a more natural user interface for PCs, but a PC is still a PC.
The iPad isn’t a PC. I’ve gone on trips to Boston and Washington DC over the past several weekends, and spend hours riding Amtrak and on Wi-Fi-enabled busses. I didn’t bring a laptop with me, because I didn’t want to lug one around, and didn’t really need to have a full fledged computer with me. My iPhone provided me with entertainment along the way. Truth be told, I would rather have had an iPad with me to surf the Web, listen to music, watch movies and read. If the price comes down even further, Apple’s got a winner.