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Bill Gates admits mistakes were made at Microsoft in the smartphone business

Bill Gates

Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman, was interviewed recently by CBS. The well-known figure in the tech industry is running a campaign to build awareness of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The couple have jumped into the deep end when it comes to charity work, but as well as being interviewed and questioned on the foundation, Gates was also answering Microsoft-related questions.

Gates also recently took part in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit. Interviewer Charlie Rose threw out some hits, including a question on the smartphone industry. Gates responded with an honest answer, admitting that Microsoft failed to get out in the lead very early.

"We didn't miss cell phones, but the way that we went about it didn't allow us to get the leadership. So it's clearly a mistake."

A mistake indeed. Windows Mobile wasn't terrible, but it wasn't enough to take down iOS and early Android. Windows Phone is a more radical and unique approach to smartphone computing, but there's still a long way to go.

Gates was also asked if he's satisfied with the leadership of current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. He responded by revealing both are highly critical of themselves and noted the following products that have been launched under Ballmer:

"Windows 8 is key to the future. The Surface Computer, Bing -- Xbox. But is -- is it enough? No, he and I are not satisfied that in terms of, you know, breakthrough things, that we're doing everything possible."

It's interesting to hear the former CEO of Microsoft admit that the company has indeed made mistakes, especially when it comes to smartphones.

While Windows Phone is beginning to gain traction, Microsoft has been criticised since Windows Phone 7 launched in 2010 that the company is simply too late to the game. Consumers would agree to a degree with how the platform is missing certain apps and features.

Source: CBS; via: Neowin (image source)

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Reader comments

Bill Gates admits mistakes were made at Microsoft in the smartphone business

104 Comments

I think he meant how Microsoft cares more about IOS, like they brought photosynth to IOS before WP, bring wordament to IOS, etc.

Lol...you jst took one look at the heading and decided on the comment didn't you...bad iSheep :P

I think certainly if the Surface had been a few years earlier, it would be rivalling the iPad big time. Windows Phone probably not so much in regards to the iPhone/Android, but late to the game is the main issue here

I think I'm in the minority, but I've always liked Balmer.  He is not a self dillusional douche bag who takes himself to seriously like most of the other tech CEO's.  Also I think Balmer does have vision (three screens and a cloud).  Has MS missed the target several times under his leadership?  Certainly.  But I can't be to harsh on him for missing some of the trends early on.  Heck, when the iPad was first introduced, I remember thinking "who the hell would buy an oversized iPod that doesn't even have a USB port?"  Probably the iPhone is the one area where I would be harsh on him for failing to counter fast enough.  Sometimes I still wonder if MS understands the importance of phone to their future, especially when I see Skype releasing features to iOS and Android first (even if they are still beta).

Despite some missteps he has turned MSFT in a blue-chip stock. Steady growth, great dividend that has been increasing. I would like to see more energy poured into WP and constant smack us over the had marketing though.

  just compare de price of msft stock vs Apple, salesforce, adobe, oracle over the lastb10 years, and also since Balmer became CEO. Then provide us your definition of growth

Yup despite the hate that goes around for Balmer, he has actually done a good job at MS and he knows that they can do better and will continue to push them to do better.

A successful CEO isn't just measured by successes achieved but by missed opportunities and blunders. Along with blowing it with Smartphones,  add modern tablets (iPad), MP3 players (Zune) and search engine (Bing). Surface RT has been an abject failure so far and the success of Surface Pro is still unkown. Even though W8 is a really good OS in general, it was introduced in a hurry and incomplete. The buck stops with the CEO.

I like Balmer too. Are we in the minority? Maybe, but I think not - I think we're the silent majority. Haters are just more vocal, is all it is.

Back around 2005/2006 there were two factions in Microsoft with different ideas on how to combat the success of the iPod.
One group wanted to go with an iPod competitor and the other wanted to make a more consumer-focused smartphone with music playback capability.
Microsoft (i.e. Ballmer) ultimately went with the Zune. If not for that decision Microsoft would have beaten Apple to the consumer smartphone market instead of flopping with the Zune.
It's all detailed in a book called Digital Wars...I can't recall who supported which product, but it was obviously the CEO's decision ultimately.
 
But I like Ballmer.

It was a mistake that they left 7.5 users out in the cold and gave them 7.8 (only a few phones have it now). I know they couldn't support the hardware and blah blah, but they could have added more features to windows phone 7.8. I bought a 920, but I know many still have a 900 and like it, but wanted more features in 7.8 (like screenshots).

Your kind are ridiculous. Most likely part of the OLD MONEY generation who was lucky enough to have risen to a decent position at their job before such things as expensive college degrees were required. See, I can make stupid generalizations too! In all seriousness though, if you have no idea why a person would be upset that a phone they bought was virtually abandoned within months and given only ONE barely significant update before it's EOL then I weep for your sense of value. Nowadays most competitors offer updates and support to their products post-release. It's not too much to expect that a brand new phone you bought isn't going to have support dropped only a few months later.

Actually I have to agree with him that it isn't a big deal and your idea of value might be a bit off. Its hard to explain though, basically just try and get a new perspective and you might see it all doesn't matter at all.

I mostly agree with you. But I take the 900 as a lesson that people should buy devices for what they are, not what they might be in the future. Also, especially with the 900, I think given the fact that it was single core with specs barely better than original WP7, most of us knew that it would be obsoleted very soon. Granted we still assumed that it would at least get a substantial subset of WP8, and not just the new tile sizes. MS and Nokia could have saved a lot of face, and instilled a lot of confidence, if they had done some type of buy-back/credit program for upgrading from 900 to 920's.

And I guess that those that are still on 7.5 - because 7.8 wasn't delivered yet (like in my case) - are happy about that fact, especially after they read about all those problems with the live tiles on 7.8 here in the forums. The only *real* new feature in 7.8 and they couldn't get it right...
If Bill Gates was referring to Windows Mobile, he should also take a closer look at WP7, because - at least in my opinion - they messed that up as well. Within a few years they had two pretty disruptive changes in their mobile platform and that leaves me wondering what will happen when WP9 (or whatever that version will be called) appears. For me, that's not a strategy to build trust :(
 

Or have even given all phones 7.8. Carriers and manufacturers should not be able to prevent updates. More features would also have been nice

I honestly can't believe were still talking about this lol. Since when in the tech world as older tech not become obsolete and companies not moved on to the next gen devices. If people, especially now days, buy tech based on the future then there being foolish. Most devices last 6 months max before the next best thing comes out. People should buy a device based on what it can do today.

You are saying people should not count on services provided by the company after buying a product, so let's forget about warranties too. People receive software updates way after the next big thing comes out. Ask any Galaxy S II user and see what's going on there.
You can't ask the customer to behave in a certain way, when there are competing companies who adapt to customer expectations instead of asking them to change.
In summary, people nowadays buy a product plus additional services; whoever doesn't adapt to this new trend will be eliminated in the market.

Those questions to Bill were harder than the questions to the president. I'm glad CEA fired them. The media gets way too many free passes in this country. Anywhoo, I liked my 8125, but it seems like Android is more like Windows Mobile than WP is, but I love my 900, good so far. Still have lots of room to grow.

"Consumers would agree to a degree with how the platform is missing certain apps and features."
Consumers agree by buying Android and iOS you ment to say I guess ;)

Lol such a great interview and all that was taken from it here is how he admits there were mistakes in the past? Its no secret Microsoft was very slow yo modernize their mobile os

Its good to see that both men are humble enough to admit that mistakes were made. That is a rarity to say the least amoung, well anyone these days. The first step to correct any mistake is to admit a mistake was made in the first place.
 

Well, this is all very nice, and Gates makes his contrition act etc etc He's just stating the obvious.
They made their first big mistake by rushing WP8. Or by rushing the launch of the Lumias. Better option would be to have waited for WP8 to launch the new phones with Nokia (who's the main responsible for any growth at all in WP). That trick with the 7.8 was just pathetic. Not only did they said a f*** you to the people who supported WP7, they made consumers wait for OVER 6 months for an update that only adds live-tiles and even those have some problems. That alone could have cause the demise of WP. The only reason I think it didn't caused more damages was the obvious downfall of Blackberry.
But now let us focus on the main issue: There ARE problems with WP8 that are a result of those mistakes. HOW HARD is Microsoft working to REALLY fix them.
As far as I can tell and experience as a user of both WP7 and WP8...they're not working hard at all.

Not so obvious.
Others rarely admit their errors, they pefer to discharge their faults to users. That's why Microsoft is dominating the market for 30 years, they really care about developers and users, others simply come and go :)

It takes time to fix bugs, build relationships, ECT. Took Google a couple of years to get on top with Android. I am sure they are working very hard. Microsoft has been trying to navigate organizational change which is a very tough thing to do and takes time to get out of the old state and transition into desired state and lock it in. Lets keep showing our support, I feel confident that they can do great !

I still rather like the fact that despite the 7-8 misstep, Nokia has a fighting chance because they chose to release the 800/900/710 ...sometimes you just have to accept the stepping stones to bigger and better products. =[

I forgot it.
Life continues, don't be locked to past :) That was.. 1999 ? I remember a company called Netscape, now gone. Same will be for Google and others. Microsoft will remain forever.

Last sentence has lots of honours. A Company which let the world able to compute, will remain forever!
I like all these companies but MS is our one love.

Last sentence has lots of honours. A Company which let the world able to compute, will remain forever!
I like all these companies but MS is our one love.

Never ceases to amaze me how some people proudly display their lack of intellect and maturity.

I agree with Mr Gates but the thing that bothers me is I seriously doubt he went on CBS to talk about that.  He wanted to talk about his philanthropy to help spread the word on that...  Then CBS writes the article and all it talks about is microsoft totally ignores anything else.  Thx CBS.

It's easy to make mistakes when you are a leader in a particular market. Let's not forget both Symbian and Windows Mobile pretty much dominated the smartphone market before IOS arrived; when you lead, there's less incentive to embrace the new. A newcomer will always outpace you, because the only way is up.

The surprising thing is how Microsoft, dominating the PC market, has put so many eggs in the mobile, touch-friendly world with Windows 8. There was probably no NEED to do this just yet, but their "mistake" from the Windows Mobile days taught them to be ready for the future.

Well it's not too late to in order to get the main apps onto our WP's/W8's!

Atleast the very least you can begin by giving us back Viber, Tango and the other apps that were already available to us on WP7!

We will see how serious MS is with WP hopefully at MWC or when they announce features and such for the next update. I woll male my decision then on whether to stay with WP or not. But they better show me they are actually serious about putting an effort in and competing.

I think they will...at least Nokia will. The 41mp EOS definitely sounds exciting to me...especially if you've used the 808 before.

Wpcentral guys - hi, there's a lot of swearing going on in this thread. In this instance, its all gratuitously unnecessary. Any chance we could have a report function to stop this in its tracks?? As soon as swearing starts, it very firmly ends up in endgadget territory. And none of us want thattt‼

Verry sad,, but then again when killing all is developers from silverlight and xna ,, that famos post at the microsoft appdeveloper forum from Jim Perry Microsoft MVP ,, got 7 million hits,, over 5000 small developers teams when bankrupt of microsoft killing silverlight and xna ,, the dollars at the back end , was wipe out over night,, manny investors follow microsoft , and cut the funds for project and look else ware to put there dollars,, verry sad for microsoft and it future
but in the end it is good ,, one company will not dominate the future ,, 4 to 5 companys will compete and this will give you cheap and great products to the consumer
Michael
 

Guys I have a confession. I've been using Windows Phone 7 for 2 years. I'm planning on moving to Verizon and I'm having thoughts of moving to Android!!! Idk what's wrong with me. I love my WP but maybe I'm just getting bored of the OS. The WP 7.8 upgrade didn't really motivate me to get a WP8 phone. It actually discouraged me. I'm lusting the Droid DNA and Note 2 so bad! HEEELLLLPPPP!!!!!

IF YOU ARE A WISE MAN ,, YOU KNOW THAT MICROSOFT IS ON THERE ASS RIGHT NOW 
 
WAIT A BIT 6 TO 8 MONTH , AND YOU WILL GET A BETTER PRODUCT THAT THE OTHERES
 
 

My friend just got a galaxy note 2. Crash! bang! and he also complains how difficult it is to use. Did I ever have to reset my windows phone? no maybe ok once in 8-9 months.  

My note 2 battery just overheated from an ota update they just pushed out. Rma'd now ... Good thing I have my Titan that I use ... Which I prefer over the Note 2...for some reason.

Anyway dude, that 41mp EOS looks enticing. You might just wanna wait till MWC to see what Nokia will announce.

Don't do it man, or at least wait of MWC to see what is announced by nokia. I for one am totally loving my 920 and have little doubt that its the best phone in the world at the moment. I know its subjective, but I don't find wp8 boring at all and no matter how you customise android you can never get it to look as good as wp8

I'll wait to see if the Lumia 920 will be on Verizon in the next 1-2 months but HTC is expected to announce a new "super" android phone and it may be too much for me to wait or buy a 4 month old phone. Lets hope HTC blows it.

Att exclusivity ends in April, you can bet the Lumia 920 is coming for vz afterwards, I would wait for mwc, HTC and Verizon will always sabotage the battery or storage or updates or all three for android

Listen, I have been reading these posts and I have to say that some of you are REALLY unbelievable. Some of you are expecting MS to come out the gates (no pun intended) on top. Lets take a look at iOS, granted they were the first to come out with a touch screen, not the first smart phone. That belongs to BlackBerry. Apple has made some changes to their is, but basically, it's the same is from the beginning. Android is next, which in my opinion is a "clone" of iOS. It's a fragmented is that every 6 months they come out with a candy flavored update. And because you can customize your start screen, they say that's innovative.....yeah right. Now we have BlackBerry 10, which in my opinion is going to be a big failure. Blackberry is trying to combine iOS and WP. It just won't attract many followers. Now I must admit that Windows Mobile was a complete disaster with the Kin. But they made up for it by going back to the drawing board and came back with something that no one has ever seen before. Now I have to also admit that MS has dropped the ball with the WP7.x phones. Anything new is going to always draw the negative remarks. I believe in Microsoft and I am going to ride with them until the wheels fall off.

"A mistake indeed. Windows Mobile wasn't terrible, but it wasn't enough to take down iOS and early Android."
 
Huh?
Didn't Windows Mobile pre-date both iOS and Android?
In fact, one of the reasons iOS was so good is that Apple obviously learned from it and avoided many of its mistakes, like having too little touch targets that really required a pen and using capacitive touchscreens that while less accurate than resistive touchscreens (at the time, anyway) are much more sensitive. Oh, that and the fact that Windows Mobile didn't really have a way to distribute apps, another thing that Apple fixed.

problem is MS still doing the mistakes. promised a lot about skype-wp8 integration and still in stupid beta where iOS and Android are getting new features day by day. completely regrating by spending my money for Lumia 920. useless skype and no WPA2-enterprise (peap-tls) support make my phone a stupid dumbphone..