Before the release of iPhone, a complete touchscreen smartphone created some doubts in people’s mind. Back then, Microsoft was the major non-Apple smartphone software maker, but Google’s $50 million acquisition of Android in 2005 came out to be as the biggest smartphone operating system in the world.
Many pointed their fingers at Steve Ballmer and claimed he was to blame when it came to Microsoft dropping the ball with smartphone software, but a new interview says it’s actually one of Bill Gates’ greatest mistakes.
Now, I don’t want to take all of the blame off Steve Ballmer here as he famously called the iPhone the “most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard.” As it turns out, physical keyboards aren’t needed on a smartphone and it’s even become a feature that is quite rare to see today. Bill Gates did step down as CEO 7 years before the announcement of the iPhone and Ballmer was in charge, but it was Gates who was still manning the chief software architect role until the second half of 2008.
The company wasn’t sure what the future of smartphones was back then and had many internal meetings around this timeframe to talk specifically about hardware keyboards on smartphones. This ended up leading to an emergency meeting in late 2008 when the higher-ups at Microsoft decided to scrap Windows Mobile and completely reboot its mobile efforts. This move could have very well been the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back as even Bill Gates agrees and says if “you’re there with half as many apps or 90 percent as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom.”
Microsoft’s smartphone efforts failed to attract developers to its platform and many will say that is what ultimately killed Windows Mobile and Windows Phone. Gates doesn’t believe there is room for another truly competitive “non-Apple [smartphone] operating system” right now and says if Microsoft had won the war then they would have an additional $400 billion in overall revenue from the last decade of sales. Interestingly, a recent report claims Microsoft is working on a 9-inch foldable Surface device that is capable of running Android applications and games.