Bill Gates claims Microsoft missed missed being a major force in the smartphone market by a “very small margin”.
OPINION: Bill Gates made an outrageous claim this week.
In an attempt to rewrite history, he suggested that Microsoft missed being a major force in the smartphone market by a “very tiny amount”.
Here’s the meat of his claim. “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.”
He’s not entirely wrong, software is monopolistic in its nature. Windows is the only real option for traditional personal computing. Just as Android is now only the smartphone operating system option for smartphones. Not Apple.
* Samsung and Facebook prove that tech fomo is real
* Does any of the technology we used 10 years ago have a place in our lives today?
He even went on to say exactly this. “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 per cent as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom.”
Now, I’m not bashing Gates. I think he’s on the money (excuse the pun) most of the time. And it’s impossible not to be a fan of the philanthropic work he and his wife do with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
A couple who choose to donate $50 billion to charity, and directly help save 122 million lives, are obviously good people.
But his comments this week were a bit self-serving. And I almost choked when he said: “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.”
And things became laughable when he went on to claim: “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 skill set. We were clearly the company that should have achieved that – and we didn’t.”
Pre iPhone, Microsoft was the biggest software player in the mobile sector by far.
Its biggest challengers were BlackBerry, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Nokia. Which incidentally, Microsoft went on to buy the mobile phone division of, for US$7.2 billion (NZ$10.7b) in 2013.
But by that time, the race was already won. Android was dominant. And Apple was Apple.
It actually all went wrong for Microsoft before the iPhone was launched in 2007, and long before anyone had heard of Android.
Back then, Microsoft was the mobile computing market. And it was appalling.
Microsoft’s problem was ugly devices, plastic styluses and shoehorning an unfit for use Windows operating system onto a mobile device.
Remember Windows Mobile PDAs?
A Microsoft-backed PDA was a Personal Digital Assistant. This was Bill Gates’ Microsoft’s vision of the future of mobile computing.
And thank god it didn’t succeed.
They were utterly dreadful and impossible things that needed a toothpick-sized stylus to use.
And the person who was about to revolutionise mobile computing and the smartphone knew it. Steve Jobs even said a stylus was a sign of total failure.
“It’s like we said on the iPad, if you see a stylus, they blew it,” he said.
This was the direction the mobile world was heading if the iPhone and Android didn’t save it.
So, no Bill. Sorry. You didn’t lose out to Android and Apple because of the antitrust trial, or because you didn’t have your best people working on it. You lost it because you didn’t know where to start.
Jobs did. Hence the iPhone.
Google did. Which is why it bought Android for US$50 million, two years before the iPhone launched.
Roughly the same time you and Microsoft was pushing out the Pocket PC.
So let’s not try to rewrite history.