Bill Gates says Microsoft losing to Android was his 'greatest mistake'

Microsoft's co-founder said his company missed out on $400 billion after letting Google create the "standard non-Apple phone platform."

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Bill Gates at Stanford AI conference

Bill Gates reckons Microsoft should have occupied Android's role as the alternative to Apple.

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Bill Gates has conceded that his "greatest mistake ever" was failing to put Microsoft in Android's position as the world's biggest "non-Apple" mobile operating system. The Microsoft co-founder was reflecting on the era when the market was shifting toward mobile, in an interview at venture capital 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," he said.

"It really is winner take all. If you're there with half as many apps or 90% 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."

He suggested that Microsoft being distracted by an antitrust lawsuit was a factor in Google having the chance to get into the mobile market. The search giant released Android a decade ago, and that OS now has over 2 billion monthly active users, more than double the number of Windows 10 users, our sister site ZDNet noted.

In 2017, Gates said he used an Android phone, but didn't specify which one. The Gates Foundation (which Bill founded with wife Melinda) didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on whether that was still the case.

It's also not the first goof Gates has admitted to. In 2013, he said that the control-alt-delete function, which allows users to log in to Windows and access the task manager, was a mistake that came after an IBM keyboard designer wouldn't give them a single button for it.

Steve Ballmer , who succeeded Gates as CEO in 2000 and retired in 2014, once admitted that his biggest mistake was letting Google dominate the search market. So as Google works through its own antitrust problems, CEO Satya Nadella better keep a close eye on all aspects of its operations.

First published June 24 at 5:46 a.m. PT.
Updated at June 25 at 4:25 a.m. PT: Adds that Gates used an Android in 2017 and his control-alt-delete comments.

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