It is no secret that Microsoft missed the paradigm shift in mobile computing to Android and iOS. The company’s then CEO, Steve Ballmer, infamously laughed at the iPhone, calling it the “most expensive phone in the world” that “doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard”. However, the advent of touch-friendly smartphones caught the company by surprise, since the firm’s Windows Mobile OS was far from what consumers were beginning to adapt. That gave birth to Windows Phone, the Redmond giant’s first reboot of the mobile OS to take on the likes of Google and Apple.
In a recent interview at Village Global, a venture capital firm, Bill Gates, founder and former CEO of Microsoft, briefly reflected on the failure of the company to win the mobile race. While the interview covered a broad span of topics such as Startups and Investments, Gates briefly touched upon the topic of the mismanagement that led to the company missing the “$400 billion” market to Android. Calling it “winner takes all market”, he admitted that the “greatest mistake ever” was the “mismanagement” that he engaged in that “caused Microsoft not to be what Android is”.
While Gates was not exactly at the reigns at Microsoft when the mobile revolution was taking place, it is no surprise that he, along with successor Ballmer and his leadership oversaw the company’s directions with regards to its mobile efforts. Calling Android the standard non-Apple phone platform, Gates says that it was a “natural thing for Microsoft to win”.
The death of Windows Phone and the firm’s absence in mobile has not only hurt the company’s mobile efforts, but also many services and potential opportunities like ambient computing that would have seen higher adoption if the platform were alive. Efforts to unify app development and broaden the reach of Windows through the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) too have been adversely affected owing to the lack of major adoption. Current CEO Satya Nadella also admitted to the failure.
While Gates admits that missing mobile was one of the “greatest mistakes of all time” and references the anti-trust lawsuits as well as one of the company’s biggest problems from the past, he adds that the other business units such as Windows and Office are still very strong, and make Microsoft “a leading company”. However, he quickly adds that “if we had gotten that one (mobile) right, we would be ‘the’ leading company”.
While the Redmond giant’s missteps and failures have affected it adversely, the firm has moved on to investing in and building services on competing platforms that help tie customers across platforms. The company’s enterprise offerings through the form of its cloud platform and various open source efforts have helped the company further diversify its offerings. With rumors ripe about a new lightweight OS and the possibility of Android app compatibility for a new generation of devices, the next few years will be interesting for the company in how it tackles the next paradigm shift in personal computing.