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Windows Phone: Steven Sinofsky explains how the launch of the iPad stunned the Windows team and led to more failed Windows projects

Windows Phone:

Steven Sinofsky was at Microsoft for more than 20 years but will always be remembered for the failed operating system, Windows 8, Microsoft’s response to the iPad.

In a series of tweets Sinofsky explained the impact the launch of the iPad had on the Windows team, which he led from 2009 to 2012, and hints at how this led to later projects to counter the threat.

1/The announcement 10 years ago today of the “magical” iPad was clearly a milestone in computing. It was billed to be the “next” computer. For me, managing Windows, just weeks after the launch of Microsoft’s “latest creation” Windows 7, it was a as much a challenge as magical. pic.twitter.com/wokHfyM5Qk

— Steven Sinofsky (@stevesi) January 27, 2020

Sinofsky explained that they knew a tablet computer was coming, but they expected this to be a pen-based Mac.

3/The success of iPhone (140K apps & 3B downloads announced that day) blinded us at Microsoft as to where Apple was heading. Endless rumors of Apple’s tablet *obviously* meant a pen computer based on Mac. Why not? The industry chased this for 20 years. That was our context. pic.twitter.com/s8v0SoUeqo

— Steven Sinofsky (@stevesi) January 27, 2020

However, Apple abandoned its legacy platform, and decided to do a few things very well, instead of trying to be everything for everyone.

9/There was no stylus..no pen. How could one input or be PRODUCTIVE? PC brains were so wedded to a keyboard, mouse, and pen alternative that the idea of being productive without those seemed fanciful. Also instant standby, no viruses, rotate-able, maintained quality over time…

— Steven Sinofsky (@stevesi) January 27, 2020

Building on a phone foundation also gave iPad things like 3G support for cheap, something which would cost a laptop hundreds to add.

12/ iPad had a 3G modem BECAUSE it was built on the iPhone. If you could figure out the device drivers and software for a PC, you’d need a multi-hundred dollar USB modem and a $60/month fee at best. The iPad made this a $29.99 option on AT&T and a slight uptick in purchase price. pic.twitter.com/PTMe646Aqf

— Steven Sinofsky (@stevesi) January 27, 2020

He notes that the launch of the iPad set a high water mark for Windows sales which never really recovered since.

19/The iPad and iPhone were soundly existential threats to Microsoft’s core platform business. Without a platform Microsoft controlled that developers sought out, the soul of the company was “missing.”

— Steven Sinofsky (@stevesi) January 27, 2020

We note that Microsoft has never really regained that soul.

22/ Knowing the iPhone and now iPad ran an robust OS under the hood, with a totally different “shell”, interface model (touch), and app model (APIs and architecture) had massive implications for being the leading platform provider for computers. That was my Jan 27, 2010. // END

— Steven Sinofsky (@stevesi) January 27, 2020

Though Sinofsky does not explicitly state this, this is likely the origin of Windows 8 and later projects such as the Andromeda and Polaris shells, which either ended in failure or were cancelled.

These projects added simplified shells on top of the Windows kernel, with Windows Core OS being a fuller implementation of the same idea.

The idea that a powerful base operating system could present a simplified user interface has haunted Microsoft for the last 10 years but has either been unachievable to repeatedly reject. It seems for Windows users known a full OS was underneath the covers, but is being hidden from them, has merely been a source of frustration rather than joy.

Steven Sinofsky eventually left under a cloud, after reports of his failed management of Windows 8 and likely related clashes with Steven Balmer. Windows 8 never reached more than around 10% market share.

Given that the projection that the iPad would replace the PC also did not come to pass, does it seem that tablets and PCs have reached a kind of detente where both sides will just keep doing what they are doing well, or will either side finally make a breakthrough and take over the whole market for large-screen computing devices? Let us know below.

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