What you need to know
- Bill Gates says that his biggest mistake at Microsoft was losing the mobile space to Android as the primary challenger to Apple.
- Gates saw the non-Apple standard for the mobile market as a "natural thing for Microsoft to win."
- While Gates sees Microsoft as a leading company right now, he believes it could be the leading company had it got mobile right.
In a candid new interview, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said that ceding the mobile market to Android to challenge Apple was his "greatest mistake ever." Speaking at an event with venture capital firm Village Global (via The Verge), Gates touched on the subject as part of a larger discussion on some of the most important choices he made at Microsoft.
You know, in the software world, in particular for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets. So, you know, the greatest mistake ever is the whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. Android is the standard non-Apple phone form platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win. It really is winner take all. If you're there with half as many apps or 90% as many apps, you're on your way to complete doom. There's room for exactly one non-Apple operating system, and what's that worth? $400 billion that would be transferred from company G to company M.
Gates undoubtedly shares some of the blame with Steve Ballmer, who was Microsoft's CEO when the iPhone and Android entered into the mobile race. In fact, when asked about the iPhone launch, Ballmer laughed, stating that its lack of a keyboard would make it a no-go for business users. He ended up ruing his words as the iPhone exploded in popularity and become the dominant smartphone.
Microsoft was arguably in a position to make more of a splash given its Windows Mobile efforts, but the company never made a commercially successful transition to the touch era. By the time Android started to take off, Microsoft was playing catch-up with its Windows Phone efforts and never managed to close the gap.
Gates estimates the value of Android as Apple's main competitor now stands at around $400 billion. That's not an insignificant sum for Microsoft to miss out on.
However, despite its mobile stumbles, Microsoft has managed to maintain momentum under the watch of CEO Satya Nadella, largely thanks to its more open approach to software and the backing of its cloud business. After its latest earnings report, the company surged past a $1 trillion market cap. Gates sees Microsoft's other assets, like Windows and Office, as "still very strong." But the former CEO admits that a mobile win would have made Microsoft "the leading company" instead of "a leading company."
You can check out Gates' full comments in the video below.
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