Brad Smith Microsoft

Over the years, Microsoft has missed some massive markets even when it was perfectly poised to be a leader. Sure, the company’s hardware misfires in smartphones rankle, but it is the missed opportunity in mobile platform and search markets that must really hurt. Microsoft president and chief legal officer, Brad Smith, has tried to explain some of those failures.

What you see from Microsoft in terms of mobile output in 2018 is making the best of a bad situation. The company’s apps are spread across iOS and Android and in some cases thriving. However, Microsoft was never supposed to be merely a developer of software for other platforms. Let’s not forget it has its own platform in Windows.

Redmond should have been a major player in the mobile space. Windows was dominant at the turn of the century in the PC market, and Microsoft was the leading tech company. Somehow, Apple and Google were able to build platforms from zero that dominated Windows in the mobile market.

The result was Microsoft’s in-all-but-name departure from the mobile platform market two years ago. Yes, the company still supports Windows 10 Mobile, but does not deliver new features and will not build new hardware.

Arguably, Steve Ballmer’s pursuit to make Microsoft a hardware brand was a pointless folly, but he is often incorrectly blamed for the company missing out on the mobile platform market. It’s a similar story in search, where Microsoft had the ecosystem in place but allowed Google to develop an insurmountable market share.

Missed Opportunities

Speaking to Recode’s Kara Swisher at the Code Conference, Brad Smith explains that it was not just slow reactions to changing tech climates that harmed Microsoft. Instead, he believes the antitrust cases the company was involved in caused a big distraction. Among them was the US government taking Microsoft to task over being a monopoly.

“My own personal view, having been in the middle of it for so long, was the single greatest cost was the distraction. Having a Bill Gates, a Steve Ballmer, great engineering leaders at our company, spending so much time figuring out how to prepare for a deposition, how to defend themselves on the witness stand, how to implement this, that, or the other thing. You look at the early 2000s. We missed search.”

Smith concedes that the company reacted too late to the rise of smartphones and mobile platforms. However, he also points out that it is impossible for a company to win all markets.

“I do think one has to have the recognition that nobody’s going to catch everything. There’s no company here or anywhere else that is going to see every trend before it emerges. But would we have seen these things if we had been spending more of our time looking for them than looking at these specific issues? It’s a great imponderable. It’s a hypothetical. We’ll never know for sure, but I will say the odds of seeing these things would have been higher,” he explained.

It is worth remembering that since current CEO Satya Nadella took over, Microsoft has returned to consistent growth. Driven by a cloud first agenda and a focus returning to services and software, Microsoft has been able to become the third most valuable company in the world.