Bill Gates calls failure to challenge iOS his ‘greatest mistake’

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Microsoft should have been Apple's biggest mobile challenger, Bill Gates says.
Microsoft should have been Apple's biggest mobile challenger, Bill Gates says.
Photo: Statsministerens kontor/Flickr CC

Former Microsoft CEO and Steve Jobs frenemy Bill Gates says his company massively missed out by failing to challenge Apple on smartphones.

Describing his “greatest mistake ever,” Gates said the failure to become Apple’s main competitor in the mobile space cost Microsoft $400 billion.

Speaking at venture capital firm Village Global, Gates said:

“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.”

Microsoft’s failure to capitalize on mobile was most notably signified when Steve Ballmer laughed at the iPhone. Dismissing the device as a failure waiting to happen, Ballmer was later proven horribly wrong. Windows Phone, meanwhile, proved a disappointing flop.

Was it Bill Gates’ fault?

What’s interesting about Gates’ admission is that it seems as though he is taking responsibility for the missed opportunity. Gates left Microsoft as CEO in the early 2000s, shortly after the company hit the height of its power.

However, he served as the company’s chief software architect in July 2008, a year after the original iPhone launch. He remained Microsoft chairman until 2014. From his comments, it seems he thinks he should have made several different calls.

Since then, Microsoft bounced back from several years of tailspin. Earlier this year, it hit the $1 trillion valuation mark, less than a year after Apple and Amazon did the same. Microsoft is currently valued at $1.055 trillion. Apple, meanwhile, fell to “just” $918.836 billion.

Source: The Verge