It’s uncommon to see an organization owning up to their mistakes, but in a Techcrunch interview printed yesterday ex-Microsoft CEO and founder Bill Gates just did, calling losing the smartphone market to Google’s Android his “biggest mistake.”
There are several important factors right here – Gates notes that whereas Microsoft is doing nicely, they may have been even larger, in Gates’s words “THE company.”
He put a price of $400 billion on Google’s Android dominance and explains the network effect – why not winning from the start will mean you’ll never win – a feature of platform wars rather than services business.
He additionally owes up to mismanagement – it was a war which Microsoft might have won – Windows Mobile preceded Android by almost 10 years. However, Microsoft never understood the significance of mobile, never gave it enough assets, was distracted by desktop priorities, and was always changing direction.
Gates notes that he’s amazed that Microsoft survived the mistake – something I believe many within the first half of this decade doubted, with many pundits predicting for example that iPads will change PCs and that the nature of work will change so that it’s potential to do everything on a smartphone. Neither of this stuff occurred, but it has not been due to the foresight and knowledge of Microsoft’s actions. Microsoft’s fundamental achievement was to pivot to growth businesses which had been much less competitive, however, which was adjacent to their current monopolies.