Bill Gates says losing to Android in mobile is his ‘greatest mistake ever’

Bill Gates

Way back before the iPhone and Android were Things, Windows Mobile powered many of the smartphones that people carried around. The mobile landscape starting changing with devices like the iPhone and HTC Dream/T-Mobile G1, though, and Microsoft never managed to become a leader in mobile again. Recently Bill gates talked a bit more about that change.

In an interview with venture capital firm Village Global (via The Verge), Gates explains that Microsoft losing to Android is his “greatest mistake.” He goes on to say that there’s only room for one non-Apple operating system in the mobile market and that that was a natural thing for Microsoft to win, but his “mismanagement” led to Microsoft losing out to Android.

Here’s Gates’ full quote:

“In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets. So the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft to not 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 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? $400 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 gotten that one right we would be the leading company but oh well.”

Microsoft had a popular platform with Windows Mobile, but after the debut of the iPhone and Android, smartphones starting moving in a different direction toward touch UI and software designed for it. The company decided to reboot its mobile efforts at a meeting in late 2008 and then launched Windows Phone, which had some nice products — we’re looking at you, Nokia Lumia 900 —but never managed to catch up with Android and iOS.

Bill Gates is one of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world, and so it’s interesting to hear him talk about losing out to Android as one of his biggest mistakes ever. We know now that Microsoft’s moves ended up being costly, though, as the mobile market is huge and many people rely on their smartphones as their main computer. Things still managed to work out well for Microsoft, as it’s still doing pretty well for itself with Windows, Office, and other products, but it is kind of fun to think about what mobile would look like if Microsoft had made some different decisions and had switched to Windows Phone sooner.

Did you ever use Windows Mobile or Windows Phone?

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