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“We did tablets – lots of tablets – well before Apple did, but they put these pieces together in a way that succeeded.”

Bill Gates had a few kind words for old rival Steve Jobs at the weekend, conceding Apple’s late co-founder had a gift for design and admitting that Microsoft had missed its opportunities on tablets.

In an interview on US TV on Sunday, Gates said the one thing his old rival possessed that he – Gates – lacked was an eye for design and marketing.

During the interview Gates also spoke about meeting Jobs while Apple’s chief and co-founder was dying. With tear in his eye, Gates said the two men had talked about what they’d learned during their careers and about their families.

During their decades-long rivalry, Jobs and Gates competed on their versions of the GUI-front ended home and office computer. Of course, there were moments of collaboration. In 1997, Microsoft under Gates pumped $150m into Apple to develop Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer for the Mac.

Jobs died in October 2011 from pancreatic cancer.

Pressed on where Jobs was better, Microsoft’s co-founder said: "His sense of design - that everything had to fit a certain aesthetic. The fact that he, with as little engineering background as he had, it shows that design can lead you in a good direction. And so phenomenal products came out of it.

“He knew about brand. He had an intuitive sense of marketing - that was amazing.”

Veteran US TV interviewer Charlie Rose pressed Gates on why Microsoft had missed the boat on tablets while Apple scored a home run with its iPad, prompting Gates to exclaim: “We did tablets – lots of tablets – well before Apple did..." He added: "But they put these pieces together in a way that succeeded.”

It was Gates himself in November 2001 who unveiled the Windows PC tablet and prophesised that fondleslabs would become the most popular form of PC within five years. However, it was the iPad, first released in 2010, that dominates.

Earlier this month, Gates criticised Apple’s iPad, saying its users were frustrated because they can’t use Microsoft’s Office on the fruity slab. The solution? Microsoft's new Windows 8-based Surface and Surface Pro tablets.

“A lot of those users are frustrated because they can't type, they can't create documents, they don't have Office there," Gates told CNBC of the iPad. According to Gates, Windows 8 “takes the benefits of a tablet and the benefits of a PC and it’s able to support both.”

Sales of Surface, Surface Pro and other Windows 8-based kit have been sluggish, with analysts IDC claiming confusion over Windows 8 actually hurt PC sales at the start of 2013. Microsoft last week revealed it’s planning major changes to key Windows 8 features following "customer feedback". ®

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