Tech billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has admitted he makes mistakes just like the rest of us in a recent interview with venture capital firm Village Global.
Reflecting on his career and time spent at Microsoft, the brilliant businessman revealed that the company’s failure to capitalise on the smartphone market still haunts him to this day.
“In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets,” Gates explained. “So 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. It really is ‘winner takes 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? $400 billion that would be transferred from company G to company M.”
What’s even more of a kick in the guts is Microsoft had a head start on its competition, launching Windows Mobile in 2000, seven years before the iPhone launched and eight years prior to the first Android phone. Despite getting in early, Microsoft failed to crack the upcoming smartphone market, with Gates blaming the 2001 antitrust case.
“We knew the mobile phone would be very popular so we were doing what was called Windows Mobile. We missed being the dominant mobile operating system by a very tiny amount,” he said. “We were distracted during our antitrust trial. We didn’t assign the best people to do the work. So it’s the biggest mistake I made in terms of something that was clearly within our skillset. We were clearly the company that should have achieved that—and we didn’t.”
As Microsoft fluffed its lines, fellow tech giants Google swopped in and acquired Android in 2005 for a cool $50 million. Focusing on a Blackberry-style OS, Google changed tact when the iPhone dropped. Pumping millions into their own iPhone-esque operating system, Google effectively killed off Microsoft’s challenge, leaving the iPhone and Android to dominate the smartphone landscape.
You can check out the full interview with Gates below.