“In the software world, particularly for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets,” Gates said in a recent interview with venture capital firm Village Global. “So the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. Android is the standard non-Apple phone platform. … There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system.”
“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,” he said at the event. “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 skillset. We were clearly the company that should have achieved that — and we didn’t.”
The antitrust trial was the result of lawsuits filed by the US Department of Justice, 20 states and the District of Columbia accusing Microsoft of illegal, anti-competitive and exclusionary practices.
In the Village Global interview, Gates said the misstep potentially cost the company billions of dollars that ultimately went to Google. Android is the most popular smartphone platform in the US. In the first half of 2018, more than 85% of all global smartphones sold had an Android operating system, according to data from Statista.
“Our other assets like Windows and Office are still very strong, so we are a leading company,” Gates said in the interview. “If we had gotten that one right, we would be the leading company, but oh well.”