The Difference Between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs

by Ben Bajarin   |   May 7th, 2013

Yesterday Bill Gates took some heat in the media when he proclaimed that Windows 8 and Surface tablets are giving the masses what they really want in a tablet product. I watched his remarks in the CNBC video and they are not as bad as many made them out to be. But reading much of the commentary got me thinking. The tablet form factor may be the ultimate showcase of the differences between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

Some of the best business advice you consistently hear, as well as the root of many entrepreneurs success stories, is to create products that you would find desirable and would want to use. Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are/were men of great vision. But they both also created products with this philosophy in mind. They made products that not only fit their vision but were something they genuinely wanted to use. In fact Steve Jobs was more vocal on this point than anyone. On numerous occasions he pointed out that his–and Apple’s–core culture is to make the type of products that they themselves would be delighted using.

Both Bill gates and Steve Jobs had the correct vision of how the tablet would become the broader future of computing. Bill Gates’ vision for tablets led to Windows XP Tablet PC edition. This vision was representative of the type of tablet Bill wanted to use and the experience he valued. Steve Jobs’ vision led to the iPad. This vision encompassed Steve’s desired experience with a tablet computer.

I think its clear which product captured the hearts of the mass consumer market. The difference between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs is that ones man’s desired product is more reflective of the mass consumer market. Bill’s vision appealed more to the business audience while Steve’s vision, and his own product desires, appealed to the masses. Apple and Microsoft are in very different places today because of this reality.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • krabbie

    “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject” – Winston Churchill

    The subject is the difference between the two giants of tech.
    Jobs subject was ease of use and flexibility.
    Gates subject was windows.
    Winston said it best about both of these fanatics.

  • David Olson

    Good insight. I easily accepted that there were people who would desire, use and benefit from Gate’s vision of a tablet PC. But I couldn’t identify who that specifically was. When our pediatrician tried using them, they were awkward compared to entering patient information with a regular notebook. The tablets shortly disappeared from the office. At first I wasn’t sure the iPad was different. My wife was willing to try it rather than upgrade her MacBook. She loved it. I was amazed to see people who didn’t care about technology but loved the iPad with its ease of surfing the web and handling their emails. Now it is easy to identify many who desire Steve Job’s vision of a tablet. Perhaps MicroSoft’s problem with the Surface is that their basic vision has some fundamental flaw.

    • http://twitter.com/qka qka

      I easily accepted that there were people who would desire, use and benefit from Gate’s vision of a tablet PC.

      There just weren’t many of them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mel-Gross/1378685615 Mel Gross

    Of course, Microsoft’s “tablet’s” came out when the hardware wasn’t ready for a real tablet. Apple was smart enough to wait until it was. But Microsoft never continued their R&D to investigate anything other than what they came out with in 2002, while Apple put their tablet project on hold to first introduce the iPhone, which got people used to the metaphors of using a touch UI and apps. That was brilliant!

    By the time the iPad came out, many millions already understood how it worked, and felt comfortable in getting one.

    Microsoft has never had that kind of vision.

    • benbajarin

      Agreed. In fact I tweeted yesterday after the Allthings D article that – 1: If it wasn’t for the iPad, Microsoft probably wouldn’t have even made the Surface and 2: The iPad is the only reason Microsoft has sold as many Surface’s as they did.

  • Rich

    Apple has sold 140 million iPads while Microsoft has only shipped (not sold) about 900,000 Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets.

    “With Windows 8, Microsoft is trying to gain share in what has been dominated by the iPad-type device,” Bill Gates said in an interview on CNBC. “A lot of those users are frustrated. They can’t type. They can’t create documents. They don’t have Office there. So we are providing them something with the benefits they have seen that have made that a big category, without giving up what they expect in a PC.”

    When Bill Gates makes this kind of statement in the face of the sales of the Surface vs. the sales of the iPad, it means that not only his heart but his head are truly locked in the 1990s. The implications for Microsoft are serious.

    • jamesdbailey

      Is he saying that you can’t type on an iPad because he doesn’t know that there are bluetooth keyboards available for the iPad or because he doesn’t know that there are alternatives to Microsoft Word on the iPad? Either way, it doesn’t say much for his awareness of the market. Or worse, he is flat out lying. None of these options should make any Microsoft shareholder or stakeholder happy.

  • capnbob67

    Great central premise.
    They did both make devices that they would enjoy using. The issue was that Gates was a nerd (in the best sense) and Jobs an artist. Gates believed in functionality, Jobs in user experience (often at the expense of functionality). The tablets both companies produced highly mirrored the leaders, the companies and cultures that they built.
    The eventual outcome is not so much which is better per se but the breadth of the appeal of each approach. Gates was thinking of mobile business applications (a small subset of the overall business market) which is miniscule compared to the market potential of 1-2 in every (lower) middle class household and higher in the world. Consumer focus was the smartest thing Jobs ever did for Apple as much as the rainbow apple era fans might disagree.