Skip to main content

Bill Gates says 'you would be using Windows Mobile' if it weren't for an antitrust case

Lumia 950 camera app
Lumia 950 camera app (Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Bill Gates says a US Justice Department antitrust investigation contributed to the failure of Windows Mobile.
  • Gates admits that he "screwed that up because of the distraction."
  • Gates also mentioned a missed opportunity involving a Motorola device.

Bill Gates spoke about the downfall of Windows Mobile at The New York Times DealBook Conference. Gates shared how his own distraction and an investigation by the US Justice Department hurt Microsoft's mobile efforts. He also revealed that Microsoft almost launched Windows Mobile on a Motorola headset, but missed by a few months.

Gates points towards a US Justice Department antitrust investigation as a contributing factor to Windows Mobile losing to Android in the mobile market space, "If it hadn't been for the antitrust case... we were so close, I was just too distracted. I screwed that up because of the distraction." He also stated, "There's no doubt that the antitrust lawsuit was bad for Microsoft, and we would have been more focused on creating the phone operating system, and so instead of using Android today, you would be using Windows Mobile."

The transition from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone had several issues and cleared the path for Android to contend for mobile market share. In the early days of Android, the success of certain devices helped push Android forward, but Gates says that things could have gone differently, "We were just three months too late on a release Motorola would have used on a phone, so yes it's a winner takes all game."

It's impossible to say how different things would have been for Windows Mobile if certain Motorola devices ran it instead of Android. It's also worth noting that this is likely a simplication of events and that many factors led to the failure of Windows Mobile. Gates did not specify which Motoraa phone almost ran Windows Mobile. The Verge points out that the Droid range of Android phones was a success around the same time as Gates' story.

Gates also spoke about the "winner-take-all" nature of the mobile phone market in June when he stated that ceding the mobile market to Android was his "greatest mistake ever."

Sean Endicott
Sean Endicott

Sean Endicott is the news writer for Windows Central. If it runs Windows, is made by Microsoft, or has anything to do with either, he's on it. Sean's been with Windows Central since 2017 and is also our resident app expert. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com.

61 Comments
  • Gates is one of the most honest business men I've ever seen. I watched a few documentaries on him. I've no doubt he's being honest. That he says he himself was to distracted is a very honest assessment. Bravo to him for being honest about it. I remember that case. Was a big big thing. Looks like it happened at the worst possible time for Mobile Windows.
  • So he was distracted, that is why Windows phones sucked so bad? Makes sense.
  • Do you know when the court case was? It was before Windows Phone 7. It was when Windows Mobile was going through changes. It could have been every different if Windows Mobile hit the big time. Windows Phone 7 was a rwacriin to Android and IOS but it was to late.
  • I didn't say Windows Phone, I said Windows phones. They all sucked and Gates is explaining why.
  • Based on your comment you have 0 idea what your talking about. Your missing the point entirely.
  • It seems quite simple. Gates is saying they were distracted by anti-trust issues so they didn't put adequate time into creating a great mobile product or strategy. Real simple.
  • Windows Mobile was actually pretty "great" at the time. Best apps, good .NET SDK, compatibility with MSFT backend services (like Exchange), stylus and directional-button-thinggy support... Unfortunately, MSFT decided to do a platform reset rather than make WM touch-capable, and by the time (the unbelievable weak) WP7 came out, it was irrecoverably years and years behind the iPhone, and fatally vulnerable to the forth-coming Android.
  • Good point, I think that in hindsight Bill would not have done a platform reset and maybe that they already lost some momentum on Windows Mobile concerning the user interface (which those old mobile OS's definitely lacked to make it popular for the masses). And WP 7 was delayed by Windows Vista issues so that did not help either. I actually wonder what would have happened if they would just build upon Windows Mobile instead of WP 7. The UI would probably have been slightly outdated and maybe less smooth (since it would drag some legacy stuff with it) but it would perhaps been an interesting niche phone (especially for productivity).
  • @Richard Loveridge "Your missing the point entirely" You're
  • Thank Google Android Autocorrect for that one. Spelling on a phone isn't something particularly concerning on a forum.
  • @Richard Loveridge I know, I was just being a d**k.
  • No they didn't some where far better than the same product at the same price running Android or iOS... If it weren't for the app gap and this now anything better than what they had with those facts at hand should have been killing in the massmarket... Especially when you consider what was the moto Droid which wasn't anything special in regards of what iPhone was doing back then... I'm not saying it should have been MS but gates assessment of past events seems easily believable all things concidered... Gates is a true tech visionary not a pure businessman... He is like the like of jobs, Wozniak, 1nd now the young ones page Zuckerberg... Same kind of profile... Those guys are licorne makers but if you look at history of those companies it always played out by almost nothing... Best exemple apple wouldn't have even existed in 2007 if it wasn't for MS needing them to survive to avoid anti trust dismentelment of MS.... And exemples are tons in that industry it is a winner take all industry and it holds on almost nothing for the winner
  • So you know why it failed better than Bill Gates? Really? Apps are just a symptom of poor sales. Why were sales poor? Bill is saying they didn't put enough time into developing it, so it wasn't competitive. Remember, Android didn't have apps when it launched, and still didn't even when WP7 launched.
  • While I have alot of respect for the philanthropic work that Bill Gates has done in his later life, I have to call BS on his assessment here. 1) The Anti-trust case was decided in 2001... TWO-THOUSAND-AND-ONE. That's plenty of time in the rear view mirror before the iPhone catapulted mobile into the modern era. 2) I would argue the opposite. The Anti-trust case was a necessary attitude adjustment to the rampant arrogance and unfair business ruthlessness of early Microsoft. If you look at some of Microsoft's most recent successes with Azure, Samsung partnership, some of their open-source world contributions, and generally more friendly-partner attitude... it only came after several servings of Humble Pie. The two biggest servings were the Anti-trust case, and loosing mobile. Microsoft was forced to learn to play nice and be a much more positive participant in larger ecosystems that they DO NOT fully control. 3) The ruthless alpha-male culture of Microsoft is well documented. A great recent article on Medium breaks it down in great detail. Vestiges of the "old heroes" still linger, and are one of the biggest threats to Microsoft's precarious transformation away from those early evils into something much more positive to the industry at large. Gates, Balmer, and many others are counted among those "heroes", "untouchables" that wrought unspeakable nastiness to the culture and business DNA of early Microsoft. Yes, they were successful. But monopolies are bad for a lot of reasons. Key to the discussion of loosing mobile is some of the most reliable outcomes of a monopoly: creeping complacency, and the death of innovation. So yeah... about as wrong as an assessment can be in my opinion. It was the Microsoft Monopoly of the 80's and 90's that slowed down the gears of innovation and eventually was the largest contributor to loosing Mobile. If anything, the Anti-Trust case was the first dose of an antidote to that disease.
  • @Mingu7 Preach brother! I agree with this 100%
  • Windows Mobile deserved to be among Android and iOS. If for some reason we see a return of windows mobile.. I will jump on it with zero doubt. Luckily there's the Surface Duo with that windows feel.
  • We might see a return to Windows Mobile in 20 or 30 years
  • You’re being modest...!
  • Completely baseless excuses. He is mixing up timelines, the distraction happened 7 years prior. And Bill Gates is being too self-effacing, what was Steve Balmer doing? They were just lazy, HTC and others developed their own capacitive touch for Windows Mobile since Microsoft was too lazy.
  • I somewhat agree; Windows Phone 7 was certainly more than 3 months behind Android! Tethering didn't show up until WP8, after having been available with Android for years...
  • Your messing up the time lines. He isn't referring to Windows Phone 7. He's talking about Windows mobike. WP7 was a new project to try and gain traction after they lost the market.
  • He is talking about all of it. They didn't put enough effort in and fell way behind. That lack of effort affected every version of mobile Windows, not just Windows Mobile 6 or whatever you are trying to scapegoat.
  • The Antitrust case went from 1998-2005 I believe. In that time he is obviously saying progression of Windows Mobile was hindered. Because his mind was elsewhere. He is clearly referring to Windows Mobile directly.
  • Yeah, they were hindered and fell behind. That is relevant to everything that came after. They never caught up.
  • I keep my Lumia 950 XL close to me.
  • Is this supposed to make me feel better, as I stare at my bottom drawer full of my old Windows phones...
  • I thought the anti-trust law suit was like 1998 to early 2000s. Android around 2008. As smart as Bill is, I don't think even he can predict if the Motorola handset thing would have made a difference. Android became the dominant mobile OS because of its open source distribution to OEMs. In 2008, Android had zero apps, but yet OEMs were willing to switch to Android because it was free and they could customize it. Google Play is now licensed, but back then, open sourcing Android was done to accelerate adoption. It worked, and now Android, along with Chrome, gmail, and search, is part of Google's surveillance net. By the way, I highly recommend the documentary "Inside Bill's Mind" on Netflix.
  • also steve ballmers arrogance. as a CEO, he had so much time to catch up, but just laughed at the idea of iphone. **** that guy.
  • That gave us a hilarious video however. Just like al those dancing videos of Ballmer and Bill. XD
  • There wouldn't be Apple computers if Bill Gates had a clue about making superior products.
  • Ironically, Microsoft/Bill saved Apple when they were almost on the brink of bankruptcy lol. ( https://www.wired.com/2009/08/dayintech-0806/ )
  • As much as I wanted to be all in with Windows Phone/Mobile Microsoft failed to properly implement. With Windows Phone 7, they made a phone that could do a lot out the box. It would have done great, if there was no such thing as apps and the need to wait an entire year for improvements through updates. The services that were great for its short time, quickly became outdated, as apps on Android and iPhone for those same features became better in weeks or months, instead you waiting an entire year. That was one Microsoft's biggest flaws. As such, they didn't foster developer involvement to create apps that could Mach features on Android or iPhone, until much later. Had Microsoft worked to get developers and got some of the big names aboard then, they might have remained a viable third option. When you couple that in with the markets where Windows Phone flourished, they left them in the wind. They failed to see that the world was watching and how they treated the base they had. Somehow, a product not doing well in your home country is seen as a failure, but you fail to improve the quality of your product in markets where they flourished. There's a lot Microsoft has done that contributed to the demise of Windows Phone, to say the least. This coming from one of their biggest hopefuls.
  • According to Joe Belfiore they tried very hard to incentivize developers, they even wrote apps for them! Nothing worked since the only thing that drives developers is the user base. His tweet: We have tried VERY HARD to incent app devs. Paid money.. wrote apps 4 them.. but volume of users is too low for most companies to invest. ☹️ https://t.co/ePsySxR3LB Windows Phone was just too far behind, especially WP7, unlike you claim. It was terrible at launch with no notification center, old hardware, minimal customization, inferior APIs, and it didn't even have copy/paste until 2011! You are trying to rewrite history. WP7 was terrible, and as such, Windows on phones is dead.
  • I am not sure it is as simple as what Gates is saying. I think that the fundamental problem going against Android is that you are competing with a platform that is 'free'. Hardware manufactures don't 'have' to do it Google's way, but hardware manufactures have to meet Microsoft's standards. Play store is an absolute mess, but getting your app on there is easy whilst getting it on MS store would have been impossible. I think MS has always been battling Apple and trying to emulate them, but fail every time. Windows phones were great (as was Zune), and probably better products than the Apple equivalents, but Apple wins in marketing, and fan loyalty. Even if MS had been quicker out of the gates, I think their whole original business model was doomed to failure regardless.
  • Sorry, Bill, but I'm not buying it. Windows Mobile would have still been viable if the software was better designed and the hardware that you had chosen to run it on was better designed. There was a time frame where Android was growing but still could have been challenged. There's no reason why you should be placing the blame anywhere except you and your team.
  • That is exactly what he is saying. They were too busy with other stuff to make Windows phones competitive. It is obvious now.
  • Yeah, but I was in tech at the time and the anti-trust crap was 5 years before Android hit the scene. It was just distraction due to the past .. it was being inept in the present that did them in. It was Gates letting Ballmer drive the bus. If MS's current CEO was there instead of Ballmer then they would have stomped all over Apple and Google. MS's upper management was crap, their our way or the highway attitude did it for them. It's why they are an apps company as far as mobile now and probably will be for the foreseeable future.
  • Google bought Android in 2005 and work on it had obviously started well before that. I agree Balmer was part of the problem. He was arrogant and didn't realize the brilliance of iOS and didn't realize he was competing with Google, not Apple.
  • Just not give up. You still can make it happen. You have opportunity to make a real pocket PC right now. I'm not talking of running x86 apps on 6" screen. I'm talking about better Continuum, which you can make with Windows Core OS. You just need to put right OS in that Surface Duo. You could use it as a phone, and you can use it as a PC when connected to bigger screen. Then you will have that "more than a phone" device. With Android it would be just a phone...
  • It's a shame I work in retail in the UK. And I see a lot of people upgrading there phones from wp8 or wp10 to android or iPhone and every single person says they are going to miss it and they waited Coz they didn't want to upgrade. They all say if the apps still work or it had the app they would of kept to it. That's the thing I have had an android phone for over 2 years now and as great as it is wp was better in look and feel in my opinion. I picked up an old lumia950xl and was instantly missing it like I was thing if only. I think Ms should of not cancel it they should of put more money in to it. More in to apps they would of had a share in the market still. Even if it small but at one point the app would of come. Ms seem to just cut and run too soon with things. It's not like they could not afford to keep it up. The new duo and neo look awesome but it's a shame they don't look like wp I think if the duo was Android but had the wp ui I would of been happy. I really think the wp ui is one of the best ever.
  • Then install a WP launcher. The "WP experience" is even better on Android since you can fix issues like the single column app drawer, featureless Tiles, and simplistic notifications.
  • Like many others, I was extremely disappointed when Microsoft officially gave up on Windows Mobile. I held onto my Lumia 950 for about a year after that and apologized to friends and family who I convinced to buy Windows phones. However, when I finally purchased a Galaxy S8+, I stopped missing Windows phone within a few hours and have no interest in going back at this point.
  • Someone could probably write a book on the sorry saga of Microsoft's mobile efforts. It'd make for a great case study in what not to do.
  • Respect this man. He is very honest and humble in admitting mistakes. It's a great character.
  • One Two Three
  • Ugh, how embarrassing.
  • I don't buy this at all. Yes, you were "too busy with other stuff". That other stuff was Windows, Office, SQL Server, etc. All of which got through the "legal problems" just fine. The fact is, Microsoft did not perceive phones and mobile computing to be a big deal at the time. To be fair, no one else really did either. Steve Ballmer famously laughed at the iPhone. Windows and PCs were king, and no one - least of all Microsoft - imagined that hand held computers would become the center of people's lives as we know them today. Hindsight is usually 20/20. But blaming the failure of Windows phones on legal troubles is absurd. Legal problems are handled by the legal department. MS has plenty of legal staff and lawyers on retainers. This would have had no effect on product designers/programmers/marketing/etc. Microsoft simply could not see outside the box, because the box they were in was large and Microsoft was the King Of The Box. This has happened before. Polaroid and Kodak were once HUGE companies. In the 1970s Kodak sold 90% of the photographic film in the US along with 85% of the cameras. Polaroid OWNED the instant picture camera business. But both of them were too slow to react to the digital photography revolution. Polaroid is now gone, and Kodak is a tiny, money losing shell of its former self.
  • Yes and no. I think what you're missing is that this was during a major anti-trust investigation. If Microsoft had pursued the mobile platform as hard as they could and should have it would have made the DOJ push on them even harder. It's hard to expand markets when you're in the middle of an anti-trust investigation. I do think that stagnated the business and focus they should have had on it. I also don't think it's as simple as Bill Gates is saying. But it was a missed opportunity. If they had focused more and pushed harder they'd likely be a player today. Established products were fine. But expansion into new markets is where they ran into the issues. I think MS has done fine in spite of failing in the mobile space and, honestly, it was probably better for the company. If they had been successful with Windows on mobile then we'd probably have a far less open Microsoft. The fact I can use the entire MS ecosystem on any device at any time is a result of them needing a footprint in mobile that's not on their OS. In fact, I think it probably made MS more successful overall rather than what they would've gained from being king of the hill in mobile. Sometimes a trip at the right time is what saves you from whacking your head into the tree branch.
  • Old bill is not getting any younger and confusing timeline here.
    Microsoft (Windows Mobile) was rejected by Nokia in 1998 at around the time when WAP was thought to become the mobile standard.
    Antitrust court cases had zero effect on MS' focus.
    Infact they were at the top of their game in all fronts
    -- developing monopoly Windows 2000/Me and unveiled tombstones for OS/2 and Unix.
    -- Hotmail was gmail
    -- Office 97 crushed Novell and unveiled tombstones for Lotus, Wordperfect and Quattro Pro
    -- IE buried Netscape Navigator He was distracted by his bank account.
    Motorolla didn't feature anywhere. They were a distant fourth behind group leaders Nokia, Ericsson, Siemens and Alcatel
  • Bill has been the most open an honest businessman is whole career. And also after he finished at MS. He even saved Apple from Bankruptcy in the 90s. I am positive he knows exactly what he's talking about. Considering he is doing more for humanity than pretty much anyone else in his 'old age' as you say. The Antitrust case went from 1998-2005. So yes. It absolutely could have affected Windows Mobile progression. If he wasn't solely focused on the company in-house.
  • Windows Mobile was not so much the issue I think (many phones had outdated ui at that time), it was more like how to keep existing app support while doing a major ui overhaul.
  • Have you heard of Photon? I had not, until recently. Looks like MSFT was working on a UI update to WM, but it got canned (disastrously) in favor of WP7. https://tedium.co/2019/05/16/microsoft-windows-mobile-photon-history/amp
  • Interesting. I think the truth is far more complex and there's also the relationship with Nokia amongst others.
    It would be interesting to know the difference with android as they are also now involved with antitrust claims, yet seem to do fine on the surface of things.
    I feel Microsoft is still showing signs of relevant problems with windows 10 and its future and current state, in my view, is an identity crisis and showing several similar signs of development struggles with their software that feel similar to windows phone. Is there still an anti-trust issue going on today that explains today's woes?
  • Don't think so but maybe MS has some differences internally? Whatever the case, legacy support plays a big role (complexities it brings with big OS changes) as well as that Windows itself is not their main cash cow anymore. Bigger app developers are also partly to blame here I think which creates an chicken-egg scenario (developers don't add good touch support or bug free modern apps because of small user base <-> people don't use the modern/touch-supported apps because it is lacking).
    Luckily W10 does have a few very good apps, just needs more (especially from banks).
  • I call BullShit on this whole idea. The US Government vs. Microsoft cases started in 1994 and were concluded on November 2, 2001.
    That is SIX YEARS before Apple introduced the iPhone on June 29, 2007.
    MS had a project to radically update WP in 2004, but it was canceled. MS did not introduce WP 6.5 until 2008.
    Does Gates really think we believe he was CONSUMED with "Anti-Trust Issues" a full SIX YEARS after ALL the cases had been settled?
    No. This is Bullshit dodge of responsibility.
    Bill was the guy pushing the "Windows Everywhere" and initially poo-pooed the idea of the Internet, pushing the "Windows Network" (an AOL Clone run by MS) all the way into Windows 95 (which had NO Web Browser when it shipped.)
    I had a Samsung Windows Phone in 2005 that was big, clunky, and had a poor battery but that was all you could get back then. I took a trip to Japan and my Japanese colleagues laughed at my clunky phone (that would not work on their networks) so I put it back in my bag and rented a very nice Japanese flip-phone for the duration of the business trip.
    Once Ballmer took over, he also pushed the "Windows Everywhere" along with "Developers! Developers! Developers!" and would not look at ANYTHING that might cut into the Windows market.
    He belatedly sent Stephen Elop to take over (and destroy) Nokia to build the WP, but by that point Google had become dominant in the online apps with G-Mail and YouTube and Google Maps, and Google refused to let MS build a "native" WP version of any of these applications.
    That doomed the WP from the get-go as every single reviewer lamented the lack of Google Apps and thus shunned it.
    Now, here we are, with a Gates "apology tour".
    Face it Bill, your greed and need to control everything led to your downfall with Apple and Google eating your lunch in the Mobile Space.
    It would be better if you just admitted you screwed up and moved on.
  • review your history...
  • Just move on and start building your own great mobile os with all the lessons learnt. Haven't MS learnt enough? I don't want to hear any more excuses. 😂
  • it's all a bit meh to me
  • Well, I am using Windows 10 Mobile for the past three years and counting as my daily driver in the shape of the Lumia 950 XL. Would I want to go back to Android? NO, NOT A CHANCE! Five years of being an Android user have really thought me about Google's data collection activity (which still happens to this day) and most of Play Store app's laughable permission. I could use Android purely as a mobile entertainment device... but that was it.
  • Microsoft normally have products or software design and under development 10 years ahead. I remember when back in 1995 and I was using excel and they were showing of a feature that didn't show up until 2016. So I think Bill was talking about the mobile OS that was ahead of its time. Remember Courier? It's way ahead of its time also and now your have surface neo and duo.
  • it's pretty obvious the phone in question was what became the Motorola Droid. Verizon needed an iPhone competitor and they threw all their weight behind the Motorola Droid as the device to battle the iPhone. Droid ads were plastered everywhere.