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The Windows Mobile era took a heavy toll on Microsoft's mobile efforts

In a new candid interview with CBS Corp.'s (CBS) titular station, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) co-founder and famed philanthropist Bill Gates discusses his former company's struggles in the mobile era.  Microsoft today accounts for less than 5 percent of the smartphone market, according to most estimates.

For a time, Microsoft held nearly a quarter of the fledgling smartphone market (circa 2004).  But it failed to keep up with rivals like Google Inc. (GOOG) and Apple, Inc. (AAPL), sticking for years with the increasingly dated Windows Mobile platform.  In November 2010, Microsoft launched a new operating system, Windows Phone, which was ambitious but lacked strong third-party hardware support.  Today Microsoft is still struggling to sell the market on its latest mobile OS -- Windows Phone 8.

Bill Gates in the interview calls Microsoft's former cellphone strategy "clearly a mistake", remarking, "There's a lot of things like cellphones where we didn't get out in the lead early.  We didn't miss cellphones, but the way that we went about it didn't allow us to get the leadership."


The tech icon says that both he and current CEO (and close friend) Steve Ballmer are both incredibly "self-critical".  He comments, "He [Ballmer] and I are not satisfied that in terms of breakthrough things that we're doing everything possible."

Steve Ballmer
Steve Ballmer's company has struggled in the mobile era, since Mr. Gates' retirement.
[Image Source: SFGate]

Mr. Gates expressed confidence, though, that it's not too late for Microsoft to claw its way to a significant mobile market share.  He's a big fan of Windows 8 and Microsoft's Surface tablet.

Microsoft is reportedly aiming to unify the Windows and Windows Phone platforms under one consistent set of mostly overlapping APIs and user interface themes, to allow users to feel more comfortable with both form factors, and to help developers save time deploying cross-platform apps.  The first unified release, Windows Blue, may land late this summer.

The revisions are also accompanied with some big leadership change.  Windows President Steven Sinofsky was driven out and new rising stars are taking his place at the company.  Some investors have called on CEO Ballmer to step down, but for now Mr. Ballmer is hanging tight in the top spot, vocal as ever.


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RE: Windows 8 Phone is great
By JPForums on 2/19/2013 9:28:57 AM , Rating: 3
Android has become (in many ways) a polished version of what Windows Mobile strived for before Windows Phone. It is highly customizable, has a massive library of applications (some are even useful), and even supports productive use (as much as a phone can) through the use of effective voice recognition, reasonably good type correction, multitasking, etc.

Android's appeal is for people who want full control over their mobile experience and/or want a device that, while perfectly capable of good looks and entertainment, puts more emphasis on function than form. This control sometimes comes at the expense of system stability, but I haven't seen many complain. On the other hand, the carriers trying to limit Android's functionality haven't made many happy.

The iPhone seems to be for people who want a phone that puts their experience front and center. They don't want to have to work at it to adjust it to their liking, they'd rather it just work. They also get a market of useful, though slightly expensive, applications. Of course, they have to be willing to live by the rules Apple sets, but they often don't run into issues until they are too invested to care.

Windows phone attempts some compromise between the two. They allow for customization of the start page to let people personalize their phone in some way, but largely limit customization throughout the rest of the OS much like iOS. Accepted or not, WP7 fit the mantra "It just works" even more than iOS did. WP8 has taken a step back to just as stable as iOS. I guess it was a tradeoff to get the needed features in. Also note that while you can't really customize core OS functionality, any program installed on the phone (not built into the OS) can be removed. Even Android can't claim that unless you have a Nexus or have rooted the device. WP7 was locked to the Zune software, much like iOS and iTunes. However, WP8 no longer requires it. The downside here is the relatively small number of applications, though to be honest, this is becoming less of an issue as most of the big hitters have made their way to the platform.


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