Bill Gates thinks Windows Mobile would have beaten Android without Microsoft’s antitrust woes

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Bill Gates has revealed that he thinks everyone would be using Windows Mobile right now if Microsoft hadn’t have been caught up in a US Justice Department antitrust investigation. Speaking at The New York TimesDealBook Conference earlier today, Gates revealed his thoughts on Microsoft’s mobile mistakes.

“There’s no doubt that the antitrust lawsuit was bad for Microsoft, and we would have been more focused on creating the phone operating system and so instead of using Android today you would be using Windows Mobile,” claimed Gates. “If it hadn’t been for the antitrust case... we were so close, I was just too distracted. I screwed that up because of the distraction.”

Windows Phone 8.1
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

Microsoft’s messy move from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone allowed Android to thrive, but at the time the company had the biggest opportunity in mobile and gave it away. Gates also revealed that Microsoft also missed the opportunity to launch Windows Mobile on a key Motorola handset.

“We were just three months too late on a release Motorola would have used on a phone, so yes it’s a winner takes all game,” explained Gates. “Now nobody here has ever heard of Windows Mobile, but oh well. That’s a few hundred billion here or there.”

It’s not clear which Motorola handset Gates is referring to, but Motorola launched its Droid range of Android-powered smartphones 10 years ago, and they were a big hit. Verizon and Motorola’s push in the US really helped Android succeed, just when Windows Mobile was struggling.

This isn’t the first time Gates has reflected on Microsoft’s mobile struggles. Earlier this year, Gates called losing to Android his “greatest mistake ever,” admitting that the loss was worth $400 billion.

Google acquired Android for $50 million in 2005, and Windows Mobile was the company’s primary target. Former CEO Eric Schmidt admitted that Google was “very concerned that Microsoft’s mobile strategy would be successful,” during a 2012 legal fight with Oracle about Java. Android successfully killed Windows Mobile and Windows Phone off, and has become the Windows equivalent in the mobile world that even Microsoft is now adopting.

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Sounds kind of like revisionist history to me.
Microsoft had even Gartner Group predicting the supremacy of Windows phone in their multi-year projections in the early years. But Microsoft was really late to the game versus iOS and Android. By the time they got on the market those other two ships were already sailing. Microsoft didn’t treat developers well, and they re-architected Windows Phone twice which messed up the development work that was already done. Ultimately being late and a lack of apps hurt sales, and the downward spiral was in full force.

Yup. They did way too many things wrong, hard to believe how many things they did wrong but look at Nokia, they were on top of the world and blundered that spot because of their complacency and arrogance, thinking that their dominance will last forever. Microsoft thought their desktop OS dominance would surely translate to mobile supremacy versus a new entrant with no OS experience like Android or iOS.

You still see the arrogance in what Gates is now saying, that everyone would be using Windows Mobile today. As though the whole iPhone thing didn’t happen and people weren’t going to be moving away from Windows mobile regardless of Android. It’s this belief that their product didn’t stink when compared to the competition was a big part of their problem and failings.

It’s really a shame that the article doesn’t even mention the iPhone.

It wasn’t Android that defeated Microsoft, it was the iPhone. Once the general public saw the first iPhone, everybody wanted it or something similar, not just the business people. Android reacted quickly. Microsoft was too arrogant to think that regular customers wouldn’t need smartphones, and keeping IT departments in hand would eventually make them win. When finally they came up with a decent product it was already too late.

That might be precisely what he’s talking about. That event. Up til that point, Android looked like a fancy Blackberry. It was poised to take them on and Windows Mobile. So, my interpretation there is… they had Windows Phone ready to go, just no partner to launch it with – enter Motorola… and he just didn’t answer the phone/email/whatever in time. Instead, Android shifted to the full screen touch model we know it as today following the iPhone launch, and launched the G1/Dream. Moto came knocking at their door after that, and went with them instead. The Droid is Android’s big win, it didn’t just put it on the map… it redrew the damn thing entirely.

iPhone is an "almost seperate market" thing, there was always to be another OS for the rest of the market (85% Worldwide), iPhone was not designed for global market.

And in that respect all that mattered was who would be that "another". If Android had a major availability hit (no Android on Motorolas), i see that spot going to Windows Mobile easily. Or it could went to symbian who knows.

What we know is that iPhone could never take this long-term #1 spot, so iPhone is irelevant in this battle.

You’re confusing quarterly sales marketshare with Active Installed base which is the metric that actually matters.

Asymco reports that Apple’s active installed base is now at around 1.5 billion active devices of which something over 1.3b are iOS devices.

In contrast, Goggle reports the total number of active Android devices at 2 billion.

That puts iOS at almost 50% the size of Google’s 2.5 billion active Android devices worldwide.

True. But to be fair Apple has a large percentage of that with users who have two or more devices. Android really only excels at phones.. so that two billion is probably mostly individual owners.

On the contrary, Apple reported 782 million active iCloud users over 3 years ago and 885 million active iTunes/App Store users way back in Nov 2014. Asymco projected the latter figure would have passed 1 Billion active iTunes/App Store users by the start of 2015 and 1 Billion iCloud users by early 2017. And remember, a large proportion of those iTunes accounts are shared family accounts with the one credit card.

In contrast Google reported only 1 Billion active Google Play Store users in Sept 2015 out of 1.4 Billion active Android devices. More recently Google reported 2 Billion active Android devices, so that means around 1.4b active Google Android users.

Also, back at the start of 2016 there were 782 million iCloud subscribers which is 20% more individual users than the number of active iPhones at that time (650m). There are now almost 1 Billion active iPhones which would work out as around 1.2 Billion active iCloud subscribers and that doesn’t account for the many shared family iCloud accounts.

What you need to remember is that there are a large number out of the 300m active iPad users worldwide who do not own any other Apple device.

And in that respect all that mattered was who would be that "another".

It’s not that simple. The iPhone changed everything and brought everyone into the current modern smart phone market. Windows Mobile (from the PDA days) would have struggled against the modern iPhone regardless, Just like Windows have struggled to transform itself and compete with the likes of iPad tablets etc.

Consumers and developers were looking for something modern like the iPhone, Microsoft needed to rebuild from the ground up with Windows Phone and by that time too late.

in the global market what is the iPhone?

for us here in USA, the iPhone is a status symbol that you are not a poor, and Android is that weak OS that the poors use. but everywhere else, Android is the king of the world, and iPhone is the overpriced handheld that no one understands why Americans are so gaga over it.

Bill Gates knows the world is a global market, so he considers global domination, not just domination of the American market.

Incorrect, there are actually many other countries where Apple’s iOS is as popular as the USA (more so in some cases).

Even when you include non-Google AOSP devices mostly in China, the usage share numbers worldwide are still far higher than quarterly sales market share at around 70% Android and 27% iOS.

However, the spread is not evenly distributed with the second and third largest markets in the world (USA & Japan] along with many other major developed nations seeing the tables turned with Apple dominating Android:

Japan: iOS = 72%. Android = 27%
Australia: iOS = 64%. Android = 36%
Canada: iOS = 64%. Android = 36%
Sweden: iOS = 63%. Android = 36%
Denmark: iOS = 62%. Android = 38%
USA: iOS = 58%. Android = 41%
UK: iOS = 55%. Android = 44%
Norway: iOS = 53%. Android = 47%

And a few other countries where iOS is very close to Android
Singapore: iOS = 45%. Android = 54%
Netherlands: iOS = 44%. Android = 55%

And China is right on the worldwide average for iOS web share:

China: iOS = 27%. Android = 70%

Which means over a quarter of active devices in China and worldwide are Apple which is astounding considering those Apple devices cost on average 4x more than all those Android devices.

still Android is dominant

>"still Android is dominant"

Nit in the metrics that matter and not in the world’s 2nd and third largest markets USA and Japan or in Australia, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, UK, Norway etc.

Apple’s 1.2 – 1.3 Billion active iOS devices are owned by the most lucrative demographic in the world meaning iOS dominates developer revenue, advertising revenue, services revenue etc – all the metrics that actually matter in fact.

The iOS platform as a whole generates 90% greater revenue for developers than Android according to App Annie and iOS utterly dominates the worldwide Business market with between 72% Mobile market share and 83% tablet market share.

Google makes a massive 75% of their search revenue from Apple users according to Goldman Sachs.

Nanigans reports that iPhones generate 1,790 percent more return on investment than ads on Android for retail advertisers. Even worse, advertising on Android actually costs more than it returns according to Nanigans.

"It’s not just that Android monetizes worse than iOS — it actually offers negative return on investment. In other words, while advertising on iOS brings retailers 162 percent more cash than they spend on the ads, advertising on Android returns 10 percent less than the cost of the ads."

And of course Apple regularly dominates industry profits capturing 80-100% of the Mobile Industry’s Profit share.

Android merely dominates the profitless end of the market.

You’re talking about Windows Phone though, he is talking about Windows Mobile, the predecessor with the start menu. He probably meant they could have used their monopoly power to try to push Windows Mobile more before Android became popular or something to that effect.

And I think stupid naming is one of the reasons they have failed. It was Windows Phone 7 series at launch. (facepalm)

You make a good point. IMHO Microsoft always saw "Windows" as a big advantage, a big marketing name. But for the general consumer, "Windows" stood for that complicated OS that always blue screened and needed updates. So Microsoft slapped the "Windows" moniker on everything that wasn’t even Windows, and the public didn’t see the appeal of that name.

Totally agree with you. If they did not call Windows RT – Windows back then (because it was not, since it was not able to run windows apps) maybe it was not such a disaster.
Microsoft sometimes reminds me of a nerd guy who for some reason thinks that he is cool and even unable to understand (or admit) that he is not. Like Wolowitz from BBT. )

He probably meant they could have used their monopoly power to try to push Windows Mobile more before Android became popular

That’s closer to the truth. However it doesn’t do anything to explain how Microsoft would have better managed the UI revolution ushered in by the iphone.

Windows mobile was hugely powerful; but it had a woeful UI in the context of touch.

This. It was pretty good with a stylus, but absolute crap for touch. I had plenty of pocket PCs, which were great, but weren’t touch machines by any means. If you lost your stylus, you suffered until another one could be bought. The Interface was just not there.

I loved the little guys. Hell, I still have a Dell X51 and an X30 in the drawer. They were solid for their time. And they were fairly open, in that you could make pretty dramatic changes to their UI. Sadly, Windows Phone 7 killed all interest in Windows phone for me. It was a bad choice, IMHO. And when they went to Phone 8, and basically screwed every single owner of Phone 7 by having no upgrade path, I called it that they were done. It just took a while for them to realize it too, being one of the largest companies on the planet and all.

"He probably meant they could have used their monopoly power to try to push Windows Mobile more"

EXACTLY. Just like they are doing now with Azure, Teams, OneDrive and even Surface (and did with Office/Outlook).

Agreed. They were too late with Windows Phone 7, but they then made the fatal mistake of chasing after a licensing model for an OS that lacked the customization where OEMs and carriers could make $$$ on top. The next mistake was resetting the codebase and messing developers around constantly. That killed off any positive app momentum and confused the platform.

I don’t understand why they reset the codebase twice. That was a major blunder. They did the same thing with Windows 8 to 10!

My understanding was that WP7 was a rush job to get something to market and the underlying codebase was extremely limited due to its age. The choice they had was get a product to market with an antiquated code base or wait and develop on the WP8 platform, which would delay their time to market even further.

I’m not a dev, so sorry for noob question. What could’ve been so bad in WP7 that they had to reset it completely? I can’t imagine Android 2.0 having been so much better fundamentally. What I mean is why couldn’t they improve it incrementally like Android did?

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