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‘The greatest mistake of all time’: Why Bill Gates wishes he had created Android

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Bill Gates

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and co-founder of Microsoft, speaks during an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News on Tuesday, December 11, 2018. Source: AP/Carolyn Kaster.

Apparently, even Microsoft co-founder and multi-billionaire Bill Gates slips up from time to time.

In fact, he says he made “one of the greatest mistakes of all time” in effectively failing to build a successful version of phone operating system Android at Microsoft.

Gates confessed to his error while speaking at Village Global, a US early-stage venture capital firm backed by the likes of former Google chief Eric Schmidt, Mark Zuckerburg, Jeff Bezos and Gates himself.

In conversation with Julia Hartz, co-founder and chief of Eventbrite, Gates explained that software, and particularly software platforms, are “winner-takes-all markets”.

And Microsoft should have been that winner, he said.

“The greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is,” Gates said.

“That is, Android is the standard non-Apple phone platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win.”

As it happens, the software giant missed the boat somewhat, producing lacklustre Windows Mobile and Windows Phone products that never really took off in the same way as Apple’s iOS, or indeed Android.

Android was acquired by Google in 2005 for $US50 million.

“If you’re there with half as many apps, or 90% as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom,” Gates said at the Village Global event.

“There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system, and what’s that worth? $US400 billion ($573 billion) that would be transferred from company G to company M.”

This blunder was so monumental that Gates even suggested he amazed Microsoft is still as successful as it is. And that’s something of an understatement — Microsoft’s market cap is currently north of $US1 trillion ($1.4 trillion).

According to Forbes, Gates himself has a net worth of more than $US100 billion ($143 billion).

“It’s amazing to me that having made one of the greatest mistakes of all time … that our other assets like Windows and Office are still very strong,” Gates said.

“We are a leading company. If we had gotten that one right, we would be the leading company,” he added.

“But, oh well.”

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].

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