Microsoft and Apple have a complex history. The former was founded by Bill Gates, who quickly understood that if he could control the underlying software, he could control the computer revolution. His rival and nemesis, Steve Jobs, was more interested in a holistic experience. He once criticized Windows as having no soul.
In his own work, he tried to elevate the user experience and to make beautiful products. Gates simply wanted to own the world.
When Gates stepped down at Microsoft in 2000, his friend Steve Ballmer took over. And he did some things well, but he was not a visionary.
After he flamed out at Apple, he got a rare second chance and began to return the company to glory after it nearly went bankrupt. One of Apple’s iconic products was the iPod, which was marketed as a digital device that could put 1,000 songs in your pocket.
Jobs realized that at some point someone was going to create a phone that played music and that would ultimately doom the iPod.
So he decided Apple might as well do it and in 2007, the company debuted the iPhone.
It was not universally admired. Many people thought that at $500.00, it was grossly overpriced and that it would never sell.
Among the people who thought this were Steve Ballmer, who mocks the new device in this video for lacking a keyboard and for costing as much as it did. He says that “I like our strategy...I like it a lot.”
Microsoft was out of the market within a decade, virtually every phone emulates the basic design of the iPhone now, and you have to look hard to find a phone with a keyboard today.
And of course the iPhone 15 debuted recently. The prices on those vary from $799 to $1699 and there appears to be a significant wait to get even the most expensive models.
Ballmer is not a stupid man - far from it - but his arrogance here, with historical hindsight, just seems incredible. He could scarcely have been more wrong about where the market was going.