Bill Gates

Microsoft co-founder and former CEO Bill Gates says the company’s various problems in the mobile platform stopped Microsoft reaching total dominance. He says Google’s success with Android and Microsoft’s failings with Windows Phone stopped the tech market becoming Microsoft and then everyone else.

Gates describes missing out on buying Android when Google acquired the company was one of his “greatest mistakes ever”. While he admits the result has not particularly harmed Microsoft as the company’s other divisions thrive, he says missing out on mobile meant Microsoft is competing instead of dominating:

“It’s amazing to me that having made one of the greatest mistakes of all time, and there was this antitrust lawsuit and various things, that our other assets like Windows and Office are still very strong, so we are a leading company,” says Gates. “If we had gotten that one right, we would be the leading company, but oh well.”

Microsoft missed out on Android in 2005 when Google Acquired the operating system for $50 million. What was seen as a relative gamble turned into a lottery ticket for Google. At the time, Android was a blip on the market and Microsoft was expected to be a major competitor in the mobile world.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5g4sPi1wd4

Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd

A few years later, Apple changed the landscape with the iOS and iPhone and Android started its uptick in popularity shortly after. We all know the rest of the story, but here’s the cliff notes: Microsoft failed to make Windows Phone a viable competitor as Google’s Android soared to market dominance.

Gates points out Apple’s success was virtually guaranteed success and the market only allowed for another platform to succeed.

“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 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 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.”

Blame Game

Just how much blame Gates should take for Microsoft not moving for Android is debatable. Gates stepped down as a CEO in 2000, a full half-decade before Google purchased the platform. However, Gates always remained a major voice within Microsoft during Steve Ballmer’s (his successor) tenure as CEO.

Judging his comments here, it seems Bill Gates is admitting he played at least some part in Microsoft deciding not to try to buy Android. He was software architect at Microsoft until 2008 and remained the company’s chairman until 2014, which is when current CEO Satya Nadella ascended.