In an interview with Village Global, Bill Gates talked about his “greatest mistake” and how Microsoft failed to become the standard “non-Apple” mobile platform.
The Microsoft co-founder says that his “greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement” he was engaged in which led Microsoft to not become what Android today is. Bill Gates says that while Microsoft is still a leading company with a strong product portfolio comprising of Windows and Office, it would have been the leading company if it would have dominated the mobile market.
In the software world—particularly for platforms—these are winner-take-all markets. So, you know, the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. That is, Android is the standard non-Apple phone platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win, and you know it really is winner-take-all. If you’re there with half as many apps or 90 percent 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? Four hundred billion? That would be transferred from Company G to Company M. And it’s amazing to me having made one of the greatest mistakes of all time—and there was this antitrust lawsuit and various things—our other assets—Windows, Office—are still very strong. So we are a leading company. If we’d got that one right, we would be the leading company. But oh well.
I feel that Gates is being a bit too harsh on himself here. The original iPhone launched at the tailwind of his tenure at Microsoft and it was the poor foresight and mismanagement of his successor Steve Ballmer who failed to see just how big the iPhone and smartphones were going to become. Ballmer first laughed at the high price of the iPhone and the lack of a physical keyboard. Eventually, he did admit that he was wrong about the original iPhone.
Microsoft did try to become the third OS in the mobile OS wars but the mismanagement and poor efforts meant that despite promise, Windows Phone found no takers — both among consumers and developers.