Bill Gates: Windows Mobile would be Android now, but Microsoft 'screwed up' the timing


A few weeks ago, Microsoft unveiled its long-rumored "Surface phone" which turned out to be... an Android device. Yep, for all the talks that Microsoft will be back in the handset business, it is not resurrecting the mobile Windows platform, but rather going with the world's most ubiquitous mobile operating system, courtesy of archrival Google.

If you are wondering why, the answer comes straight from Panos Panay, the chief product officer of Microsoft's Devices group. He sat down for an interview and answered that the Surface Duo runs Google's ubiquitous mobile OS because the 'best OS for this product is Android," basically throwing in the towel on shoehorning any type of Windows into a phone.

It could have been a very, very different situation, if only Bill Gates wasn't entirely dedicated to fight the Justice Department's antitrust probe at the time, admitted Microsoft's then-CEO in his latest interview for the New York Times:


It turns out that Microsoft, not Google, could have been chosen to provide the operating system for the device that came to market as the OG Motorola DROID on Verizon, and spearheaded Android's popularity.


At the time, Bill stepped down as CEO of Microsoft, after it became clear that the DoJ would be pursuing the breakup of the company otherwise, and appointed Steve Ballmer as a CEO. Steve's flamboyant management style, however, tried to force its way onto phones too, with the disastrous Nokia acquisition, and the rest is history. 

Microsoft is otherwise doing very well, briefly surpassing Apple earlier this year with a $1+ trillion market cap. It's just a marginal player in phone software now, striking deals for its Office suite being present on Samsung phones, or working on Android launchers. It remains to be seen if the Surface Duo changes that dynamic. 

What do you think, did Microsoft "screw up" the launch of Windows Mobile back in the days indeed, or was Android just that good at the time? Remember, this was the era of the HTC Mogul vs OG iPhone vs T-Mobile G1, or something like that.

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27 Comments

1. ahmadkun

Posts: 665; Member since: May 02, 2016

( my opinion ) I'm happy that Android has made it because I can see how it would be if there is only iOS and Windows Mobile it would be more easy to lock you down into their ecosystem, I know even Google does that with Android but you always can switch platforms and you still find your Google services everywhere , even the competition wouldn't be as strong as we have right now, but would be nice if Windows Mobile still here, so we can have more options, I know right now there are people they are sick of iOS and Android and Windows Mobile would have been an option for them.

3. BGChicago

Posts: 227; Member since: Nov 16, 2014

You basically described the current situation. Non sense. We needed 3 steady players. 2 is not enough for good competition.

8. TBomb

Posts: 1668; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

Unfortunately, the iphone grabbed too much of the market in the beginning for us to have 3 steady players.

13. sgodsell

Posts: 7593; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

It doesn't matter how many players you have. The other thing is Bill can talk all he wants. However Android/Linux had next to no market share at the time. What made Android flourish and grow, was how it's development platform made it easy for anyone to make apps that would support any display size, and they were not tied to any specific hardware. Therefore Android apps would run on any ARM, Mips, or x86 hardware. Also at that time, mobile hardware was in a rapid change from many OEMs. Android was the ONLY choice, that OEMs or companies could try out, and test new hardware at a rapid pace. Microsoft's Windows Phone you had to wait until Microsoft themselves supported any of the new hardware. Not to mention which would be supported (CPUs) hardware, and when. It's why Microsoft's Windows Phone was always like a minimum of 6 months to a year behind Android. Even to this day Android supports all kinds of SBCs, including the famous Raspberry PI's, as well as thousands of others.

29. technophone

Posts: 7; Member since: Sep 25, 2019

Really there only reason windows phone couldn't make it, is because Google pulled YouTube app and that was everything back then. If they released a surface phone line people would jump on it just to have something new as long as they paid top dollars for app dev

30. sgodsell

Posts: 7593; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Trust me it wasn't only because of Google's YouTube. You can't point it at one thing, it was a lot of things that Microsoft did. Microsoft went out of their way to smear Google with their scroogle campaign well before the YouTube fiasco. Tell us, why Microsoft didn't support the standard HTML5 within their own browser? It made no sense, and it's not like Microsoft didn't have the time to make it compatible. Even Microsoft's version of JavaScript was not compatible with the standards at the time. Microsoft had a history of trying to take standards and put their own twist on them for their platforms, especially when there was no need to do that. What about the part where Microsoft bypassed Google YouTube license agreements to bypass YouTube's ads? If Microsoft made their browser compatible with the HTML5 and JavaScript standards at the time. Then Microsoft's Windows Phone users would have been using YouTube. But to say it was ONLY because of Google's YouTube, just shows how tech illiterate you really are.

15. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1473; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

Actually it had nothing to do with how much market share the iPhone captured. Windows Phone just wasn't good. It was too much of a departure from what people knew. The same thing happened when they launched Windows 8. The Metro/Modern UI people absolutely hated, they wanted it gone. I firmly believe that if Microsoft had stuck with the Windows Mobile 6.5 UI, made it less cumbersome and fluid, they would've challenged both iOS and Android at the time. But no, Microsoft insisted on taking it in another direction and that's what I believe screwed their chances.

17. ph00ny

Posts: 2069; Member since: May 26, 2011

I disagree. Winmo back in the days were great but biggest downside was that it was too great for its own good. Just didn't have the hardware to support the OS and left a sour taste with a lot of users

19. sgodsell

Posts: 7593; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Also at the time Windows Mobile 6.5 cost OEMs $50 per device. Windows phone cost OEMs money to install Microsoft's platform on their smartphone hardware, that's without selling one device. So OEMs were sceptical, and with good reason. Initially it was $25, $12, $7, and then free. Because Android was free from the start, OEMs were willing to also take a chance with Android because it was free, and the apps didn't care if OEMs change to different SoCs. We can speculate all we want, but when you look at the full picture. It was a bunch of things that added up to make Windows Phone/Mobile fail along the way.

20. superguy

Posts: 471; Member since: Jul 15, 2011

Not only that, Windows Mobile 6.5 and prior were optimized to use with a stylus a la Palm. They weren't particularly finger friendly. I enjoyed my WinMo phones back in the day. There are some apps/games I had that I wish would work in Android but won't. A lot of great devs we have now cut their teeth on those devices back then. Interestingly enough, HTC was the leader in that sector and did well in the early Android market before finally going down the tubes. Sad.

2. foreverNOOB

Posts: 181; Member since: Jul 07, 2017

Windows Mobile and Symbian devices around 2007 era looks really outdated when compared to OG Iphone, and their successors with updated UI were too late to be relevant as by the time they(Microsoft and Nokia) started to update theirs respective UIs, first wave of Android phones were already making the big scene by then.

16. tbreezy

Posts: 181; Member since: Aug 11, 2019

I miss the days of Symbian and WM, you really had to work on these devices to get them to function just the way you want, was great.

6. sir_cv0k

Posts: 4; Member since: Oct 21, 2019

As someone who used Windows Phone for several years I am quite sad, that it isn't around anymore. Usability, responsiveness and design language were simply much better than Android at that time. With WP8 you could also sideload apps, had filesystem access and such... Also YT background playback - from the official store, instead of relying on hacked apps (or NewPipe). PS: and system-wide dark mode

14. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1473; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

I can't believe you could say that with a straight face. Windows Phone was riddled with bugs, the UX was ridiculously inconsistent, multitasking absolutely dreadful, it didn't offer an official Youtube app as Google never made it, the responsiveness of the UI varied wildly from update to update, the app store was a joke, Internet Explorer and later Edge were frankly s**t in comparison to Chrome or Safari, its default keyboard was very impractical, the settings were a maze of illogicalities, do I need to go on? Arguably the best version W10M, a few updates in, came when it was already long dead in the water. I'd say the most visually pleasing version was Windows Mobile 6.5, but unfortunately it was just too heavy for the hardware of that time.

7. tokuzumi

Posts: 1961; Member since: Aug 27, 2009

Windows Mobile wouldn't let go of the stylus, resistive screen, and slide out keyboard format that every previous windows mobile phone had. What ended up being on the HTC HD7 was actually pretty decent, but it was a little too late. Also, Microsoft was trying to bully Android in the beginning. It's why Google only had a SD card slot on the original Nexus One. If memory serves, Microsoft owned patents for phones with expandable storage. Google wasn't about to pay any more royalties than necessary, so they removed expandable storage on all future devices. There were a bunch of articles in the 2010-2014 time frame about MS making almost a billion dollars on patent royalties from Android manufacturers. Contract negotiations between microsoft and Google must not have gone well, because Google never supported Windows Phone with native Google apps.

9. tom9999

Posts: 1; Member since: Nov 08, 2019

I loved windows mobile for years using htc dual and the latest i can remember it was samsung omnia. I used to jailbreak it.....file commander change the code then restart it again....lol those golden days... I will gladly welcome windows mobile reborn if it sure come.....life is too boring if u have only 2 options......Go Bill Gates....a whole world is waiting

10. lyndon420

Posts: 6883; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

Bill is still crying over this? LMFAO!!

12. TBomb

Posts: 1668; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

I'm sure it was brought up by the interviewer. I wouldn't say that he's crying over it. However, it is clearly a HUGE turning point for both the companies and consumers so I see no harm in talking about it at this day in age.

11. TBomb

Posts: 1668; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

Would love to peek into a universe where Windows won that Droid OS project..... Would be an incredibly interesting comparison.

18. poopypants78

Posts: 30; Member since: Jul 13, 2017

One of the biggest problems was a lot of Windows Mobile users started with 6.x, which was awful and they jumped ship early on. App support was always bad from the start and never improved. The only shining light was the excellent Outlook experience, which only applied to corporate users.

21. tedkord

Posts: 17469; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Windows Mobile was fantastic. With Windows Phone, Microsoft chose to emulate the worst aspects of IOS.

22. monoke

Posts: 1197; Member since: Mar 14, 2015

Would have loved a third or more OS having more market presence. Just too bad. It's just tough getting the support needed to sustain.

25. raiter

Posts: 38; Member since: Mar 10, 2014

The WP7 and later versions where great, as the phones. With clean UI, lovely and simple tiles. And WP8 and WP8 dos bit try to convince the customers, that there will be mobile COMPUTER. While Apple with their Ipad and Android tablets, tried to drag the customers away from computers (PCs, meaning Windows), and tried to convince us that all we need is apps, what looks and works "like-programs". Even icons on IOS or Andri screens copied the Win PC desktop (instead of WP tiles) . So It did not work for IOs/Andro, as we see MS has won this philosophy, and computing is ruled by Win devices, Surface line, laptops, etc. The WP7/WP8 had beautiful UI, and MS showed us that it is a PHONE with smart options (and not the smart-pad-like-compiter with phone option). And still today when I find an old WP7 HTC phone, and switch it on, I wonder how simple, clean and fast it is, everything is there where it should be. But then WP10 (or WinMobile 10) where The next big step (and mess). Ir WP7 where clean and simple, MS decided to run after IOS/Andro reature-packed OS, trying to copy each small (bat probably irrelevant) features and options that where on rival devices. Ok, probably MS thought that that must offer to WP users the same options as IOS/Android. So WP10 first time where big mess, lot of lags, hangs, crashes and complains... When finally MS fixed it on Lumia's 950/xl, that where too late. And, the MS lost contact with other OEMs (HTC, LG, Sammy, etc), so people where not ready to buy just two models of Nokia/Microsoft branded devices with sluggish WP OS. I have been used the WP, loved it... But the days of WP are gone (by now). But... Un tech manu things make loops of development, as well as the business (and for MS it's just the business for money) do not stand still. And the smart phones and IOS/Android as thay are today, will not live forever. In 10 or 15 years things (tech, soft, philosophy, consumers) will change, there will be met products, new ideas, the merge of companies, or fall of the businesses. So I believe, the Microsoft soon or later will find their way in mobile (or whatever it will be) ecosystem.

26. jonathanfiuwx

Posts: 184; Member since: Mar 10, 2017

...and hes right because when i switched from the mogul to the evo, it was exacted what i was looking for after that operating system... and you know what. im not going back. seems to me that 20 year ago, palm treo users are probably iphone users now and what was windows mobile is now android users

27. johnh3

Posts: 147; Member since: Aug 23, 2012

I think the latest version of Windows Phone 8.1 was fine. But then they replace it with Windows 10 Mobile that felt not ready and with many bugs etc.. And that was the final straw for me and I went to Android. The devices under the Microsoft logo was not atractive either. In general I think Microsoft screwed things up themselves. I not blame Ballmer so much I have seen interviews that he was thinking go in mobile much earlier in a serious way long before the Nokia deal but was not allowed by Gates at the time as he was in the Microsoft board. I think Bill Gates should left the MS board to when he left the CEO position. He had a negative influense at the company and Ballmer had not free hands.

28. Vogue1985 unregistered

Mr Gates,if you want to you can. I believe there alot of room. Its alot of finding that niche and considering almost all the pics and laptops etc on the planet have Microsoft integration,even smartphones with software like excel,word etc. If you want to you can,the company is big enough but the execution must be exceptionally.

31. kabhijeet.16

Posts: 894; Member since: Dec 05, 2012

Imo.. this is a stupid comment by Bill Gates. Today Android is huge. But back in 2008-2010, it was a budding OS and Windows mobile was also a new system. Android might have been discarded if it was built like Windows. But they went open source. Even if Windows oS was a little late, it doesn't matter. If Windows mobile os was better, users would have preferred Windows instead of Android. & Google might have had to shut down Android. The fate of Windows was because of Microsoft, Nokia & stupid management of both these companies which tried little to grow & compete.

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