We’ve all regretted mistakes we’ve made, but chances are your biggest mistake wasn’t worth at least $400 billion. That’s what Bill Gates recently revealed what he says his “greatest mistake ever” cost him. The mistake? Allowing Android to become the dominant non-Apple smartphone operating system instead of Windows Mobile. Gates revealed his greatest mistake during a recent interview at VC firm Village Global:
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.
After the iPhone’s success in 2007, Google moved quickly to ensure its Android operating system, which it acquired in 2005, would become the major alternative to iOS. Meanwhile, executives at Microsoft were wasting time debating if touchscreen operating systems and phones without keyboards would ever take off.
At the time of the iPhone’s debut, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system supported smartphones that had built-in keyboards. By the time Microsoft decided to scrap Windows Mobile in favor of the touchscreen Windows Phone, Android had already established itself as the alternative to iOS. Had Windows Phone become the dominant non-iOS mobile operating system, Gates thinks Microsoft would be the leading company in the world today:
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. If we had gotten that one right, we would be the leading company, but oh well.
You can check out Gates’s full interview with Village Global below.