Our Smartphone Strategy Was “clearly a mistake” – Bill Gates

| February 18, 2013 | 97 Replies

bill-gates-AMAIn an interview with Bill Gates (no longer officially part of the executive Microsoft team, but his word means a lot) has mentioned that they clearly made some mistakes in the smartphone strategy they’ve taken. Siting the fact that their strategy hasn’t allowed them to get to the top.


“No, [Ballmer] and I are not satisfied that in terms of, you know, breakthrough things, that we’re doing everything possible,” Gates told Rose. “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.”

No I’m sorry Bill (I don’t think he’ll mind me calling him that); you and Ballmer haven’t done everything you can in terms of “breakthroughs”; Nokia have- while you folks sat back and watched other people capitalize on your special features. It seems ironic that in the previous releases of Windows Phone when they showed off everything some ideas were “lifted” by competitors; while now with WP8 after they kept silent for so long there was nothing worth stealing (maybe kids corner). In short get it together Billy, and you to Ballmer.

*Obligatory Steve Ballmer Gif below*:





Category: Lumia, Nokia, Windows Phone

About the Author ()

Hey, my name's Ali- Currently a fifth (and final) year Dental Student from Chicago; studying in Jordan. I love all sorts of gadgets almost as much as I love my cookies! Be sure to follow my Twitter handle @AliQudsi and Subcribe to my Youtube for the latest videos - no pressure. Thanks.
  • MOOking

    LIke i said MS is a FRIGGIN FAILING COMPANY….it’s about time the ACTUAL FOUNDER Said so

  • dss

    mm.. I think he is referring to Windows Mobile/Windows CE … they just missed the timing between software requirement and available hardware. Windows Mobile was.. in a way.. ahead of its time. Android and iOS came right on time, well.. android was a bit early since the 1st and 2nd gen hardware that andro ran on was way too weak for the system to run smoothly. Android hit an equilibrium with the Galaxy S2.

    Also.. Windows Mobile had a huge problem in the face of Nokia and Symbian. Nokia spent billions of dollars just to keep Microsoft at bay in the mid/late 90 early 00s.. ironic.. yes.. very much so.

    • migo

      The mistakes Microsoft made were much the same mistakes that Nokia made, so Ali is quite off base saying Nokia did all the work in breakthroughs. Both did work in the pre-iPhone days that could be considered breakthroughs and both didn’t do enough to keep Apple at bay. They also both, like Palm and BlackBerry had to start from scratch due to a fear of cannibalising their own products.

      Microsoft could have done something really unique with the Courier, had Bill Gates not axed it for fear of it encroaching on Office, and Nokia would have had a head start on everyone, including Apple, had they not been worried about Maemo taking away from Symbian sales.

      • Mind explaining what you mean about “Courier”? Never heard of it before.

        • migo
          • Hmm interesting… can’t believe I haven’t heard of it before. (under that name ofc)

            • cyan

              of course you don’t because your mind focus on Nokia nothing else and i think you don’t know anything about Microsoft

              • james


      • Ha, the Courier. Great piece of tech, but I doubt that it would have ever been a hit with the public. It had a very high ‘concept’ feel about it. Nevertheless, MS could have distilled it into something a little less radical and bring that to market.

        Also, I believe the Courier would have been way, way too expensive to ever create the buzz like the iPad did.

      • Gordon Ramsay potkii takaosaa

        Even while Nokia had developed Maemo and made it a full phone OS long before N900, it would have been questionable if they had been able to prevent the rise of iOS and Android.

        After all, Apple invented the iPhone and Nokia didn’t have that invention available for the Maemo development team.

        But, if they had pursued the Maemo path while killing Symbian long time before Feb 11. they could have reacted long time before it was possible with Symbian.

        If Nokia killed Symbian in 2009 and while pursuing Maemo as the phone OS after 2005, they would be a major player even today. Even without inventing the iPhone before Apple invented it.

        • Pathetic

          yes? Hahaha

          • Gordon Ramsay potkii takaosaa

            Symbian almost killed Nokia.

            • migo

              After Nokia squeezed the life out of it.

              • Jyrki Sukula ottaa voiton Ramskista

                That happened in 2004-2007.

                Using Symbian as the primary OS was a mistake because it was not a competitive product with touchscreen phones.

                • rustyknight17

                  Until Belle …

                  • Jyrki Sukula ottaa voiton Ramskista

                    Belle is not competitive.

                    • rustyknight17

                      Really ? It`s every bit the equal of any of it`s rivals and I note that even Engadget and Phone Arena agree Not to mention that Belle phones have sold quite well ! Better than the Lumias until quite recently …

                    • John

                      At it with your silly necros again… >.>

        • GordonH

          Stop twisting facts.

          • Gordon Ramsay potkii takaosaa

            Unfortunately that’s true.

        • Carbontubby

          Symbian was supposed to have been killed before 2009. Instead, Symbian diehards at Nokia diverted resources from Maemo/Meego to create a new Symbian UI to make it more competitive, and thus ended up competing against Meego. It was Nokia vs. Nokia and the whole company ended up losing.

          Windows Mobile was powerful but the UI and UX was a nightmare. Bulky devices, short battery life, tiny UI elements requiring a stylus… Apple fixed these issues and sold boatloads of iPhones, even if iOS was neutered compared to older OSes.

          • Gordon Ramsay potkii takaosaa

            Some of that blame should go to the Symbian fans and Nokia fans for not yelling out that Symbian was no longer going to be competitive.

            Of course we should blame Nokia for all this. They did the decisions.

  • *****

    I think bill was referring to Nokia liking their ass with Symbian lol.

    I remember a few years back, you has Nokia dominating with the n series. Blackberry putting on a very strong show in the enterprise, and finally, Microsoft and palm fighting for scraps at the bottom.

    in fact, I would argue I’d Microsoft and Nokia combined their efforts a bit earlier, around 2010 for the windows phone 7 and Symbian 3 launch, they would be dominating.

    imagine the n8 running windows phone 7 with a snapdragon and 512mb ram.

    • migo

      There’s a lot of things to imagine if both companies hadn’t waited so long to make strategy shifts. Imagine the N900 running Maemo 5 when the 5800 was released, and an N910 with the N8’s camera.

      Imagine if Nokia had bought Palm and combined the hardware of the N900 and E7 with webOS (which was already largely compatible with Maemo).

      Imagine an E61 with stereo sound and a 5MP Zeiss camera.

      Imagine S60 v 3 with S80 resolution, bacwards compatibility and no Symbian Signed.

      Imagine if Nokia had also supported the Innov8 with software that was otherwise exclusive to the N-series, and had Samsung bringing their muscle behind the Symbian platform.

      • dss

        Imagine if Nokia took the Series 90 touch UX project a bit more seriously back in 2003..


        Symbian would have had a proper touch UI way before apple came into the picture.

        But yes, I agree, Microsoft and Nokia were at war while Apple and Google got on with their projects and capitalized.

        • It is the way things go, think about MS and Apple back in the day. MS was able to do what it did partially because Apple (or Jobs) only saw IBM as the enemy and didn’t see MS coming.

          A similar thing happened with Nokia and MS in the mobile age as you point out. They were to consumed by what either did and so forgot to innovate or see what came from unexpected corners.

        • rustyknight17

          good points , interesting … Now imagine Blackberry with QNX … Hey wait a minute lol ! 😉

        • Gordon Ramsay potkii takaosaa

          Touch UI, possibly yes, but a proper one?

          That was just one more iteration of the old paradigm. It was not a revolutionary invention like the iPhone’s UI was.

          This is really strange.

          Some Nokia fans don’t understand even today how different and groundbreaking the iPhone was when it was released. S90 Touch UI would have been a touch UI but not something like iOS.

          Nokia should have been investing on UI development instead of delivering OS features. They never really did that.

          • migo

            The iPhone would have been a hit regardless, but they would have been in a better position to react, and Android wouldn’t have had a huge head start as the alternative to iOS.

      • Saul

        ” (which was already largely compatible with Maemo).

        Ummm no it wasn’t, aside from a gaming compat layer…

        WebOS would’ve been a horrid idea/fit, it WAS assessed, they chose not to & opted instead to continue with Maemo, transition to a full Qt kit etc, evolve Maemo further with Harmattan, & then (LT) migrate to MeeGo proper.

        They just executed horridly along-the-way (Symbian religion can be at least partly blamed for that), & got started a bit too late.

        • Didn’t WebOS mainly start out as a HTML/CSS/Java based OS? Essentially meaning that it was not even half as robust as Maemo was and also meaning Nokia had to start from square 1 with that?

          • swain

            how Java is not even half robust as C ???

            • I’m not that into Java and what it can do, but isn’t it so that the HTML/CSS/Java combo of WebOS meant that applications weren’t capable of as much as native coded counterparts like on Maemo?

              Not stating anything here, mere questions.

          • migo

            No, just the first line of dev tools were web languages, you could still write in C if you wished.

          • Shaun

            You mean Javascript NOT Java. The two are quite different despite the first 4 letters.

          • Sammy

            It’s js not java, very different beasts, it has matured considerably in recent years. Still, to base a platform mostly around it (even today) is a bad idea, especially for mid to top-end market.

        • migo

          There was no ‘compatibility layer’, yiu could take software for one, extract it, and run it on the other. No source code, so no recompiling possible, and there for unnecessary.

      • Deaconclgi

        Yeah, imagine if Nokia would have utilized the GPUs in the N95, N82 and so forth and ushered in 3D accelerated gaming before the iPhone did. The MBX in the N82/95 was more powerful than the MBX lite in the iPhone model at that time yet Nokia didn’t utilize it for games.

        Even the NGage 2.0 could have been a success with a GPU standard in Nokias N-series.

        Imagine what One: Who’s Next would have looked like with GPU acceleration, the hardware was there just the software didn’t know it was.

        The GPU accelerated sis only Crash Nitro Kart was much better looking than the non accelerated NGage 2.0 version.

        Imagine is Nokia would have used the GPU to accelerate the Symbian UI like apple did…

        Imagine that.

        • Alonzie

          Imagine Nokia PureView with MeeGo – ……..wow!!

          • MOOking

            i was hoping for that with the Nokia 950 but.ooooooooo ELOP

          • twinklestar1792


        • nn

          And now imagine it’s 2023, and you are trying to imagine what different paths Nokia should choose ten years ago. Oh, you can’t. There are no options or alternatives, just failing WP. Nothing to spur your imagination.

          Before Elop they didn’t lead the trends and that didn’t change with him. But they at least had solutions that were delivering results at that time, kept their options open and in fact finally worked on the proper response in terms of Symbian/Qt/MeeGo (which was possible only because some genius didn’t EOLed all of them in 2005).

        • yemko

          sorry #Nokia sorry its too late too late

        • Gordon Ramsay potkii takaosaa

          Not possible.

          N95 didn’t have a proper touch screen.

          It’s all about software. Apple had that. Nokia didn’t.

          That’s the reason why Apple succeeded and Nokia failed after the smart phones became more and more unwanted and modern smartphones (invented by Apple) took their place.

          • Pathetic

            yes? XD

            • Gordon Ramsay potkii takaosaa


              Nokia didn’t have a modern smartphone.

              It’s true.

              • rustyknight17

                Until Belle …

    • dss

      Its really not that simple, even to this day, we still don’t have a Windows based phone with the camera package from the N8..

      • Andrew_b

        Yar, my wife’s N8 is starting to play up. She’s hanging on for now and still tied down purely because of the quality of the camera. There’s nothing ‘current’ in the sub-£300 bracket which feels like a step forward in the photography stakes.

        Here’s hoping for something worthwhile at MWC.

        • Even the 920 isn’t a real step forward, apart from video and low-light shots that is.

          • dss

            920 is pretty average overall.. the video stabilization impresses me the most, and also, it will perform better than the N8 if you are recording loud sounds, despite the fact that it will be mono. But you do loose lossless zooming during video, overall image quality, and the xenon flash.

            I am still not sold 100% on the low light performance on the 920, yes its good, but still there is tons of noise, it gets the white balance wrong a lot of times, and of course motion is always blurred.

            • Just recently looked through some holiday pics I took with the N8 and am still blown away by the sheer quality of it. Sometimes I hate I sold it on, but then again new phones ain’t free either.

              The 920 is indeed fairly average, it is the video stabilization which is the amazing feat it has. Overall it isn’t stellar, but still good. Most of it is down to the software tweaks it applies. You can see it happen right after you take a picture.

              The N8 did little to no processing and you got very natural looking pictures because of it, that was the strength of it. Along with the good lens/sensor and xenon flash of course.

              • dss

                Ya.. even over 2 years later there is nothing better than the N8 out there (expect the 808) and it makes perfect sense really. Big sensor, big pixels, relatively good optics.. which allows for a more mild jpeg processing.

                I remember Dinning talking about how proud they were with the natural post processing in the N8… and really, with PR 1.1 1.2 and Anna the N8 is a monster. Things degraded a bit after belle, but still very good.

                • Gordon Ramsay potkii takaosaa


                  Too bad they have people like Dinning. Apparently he is the guy responsible for ruining the 808 with letting out the exposure control.

                  It’s very hard to think the 808 as a serious camera without that feature.

                  I can get exposure control even for the iPhone but not for 808. That’s ridiculous.

                  • Pathetic


                    • Gordon Ramsay potkii takaosaa

                      Unfortunately it seems that he is incompetent.


                • rustyknight17

                  Amen !

  • Alonzie

    Frankly, now all this is as important as snow in Africa on Christmas last year – more clearly: as important as melted snow. Now Nokia have about 1% market share with Windows, a time ago it was 40-70% with Symbian + MeeGo + S40. Unfortunately MeeGo was wasted opportunity but fortunately there is Sailfish and Jolla with spirit which previously was inspiring inspiration for Nokians.
    Talking about strategy MS had about 10 partners previously during about last 10 years and all they had serious problems because of Windows, now in most cases either they are use Android or had bankrupted. So I agree – “So it’s clearly a mistake.” – and this is quite interesting how about Nokia in this aspect? “Burning platform” or “clearly a mistake”? Everyone can estimate on one’s own.

    • noki

      As much as I like Jolla and my perfect meego, there is no turning back what was done is done. And now nokia dreams on becoming #3 or at least remain in the top 10.

    • dss

      Microsoft and it’s partners got their asses kicked by Nokia and Symbian… it was a really tough battle for Microsoft at the time because the available hardware played in Symbian’s favor, and not in Windows CE’s.. then the tables turned with Android and iOS.

  • nn

    I find it amusing that suddenly people are finding out that Nokia is doing all the work and MS is at best not sabotaging their efforts. The shocking revelation that MS aren’t such good boys, that the gentleman agreement of mutual support somehow isn’t working out as these people hoped!

    First, for MS the core business are Windows and Office. It’s in their DNA to guard these two at all costs. WP is just appendage, it’s one of lasts to get support and one of the firsts in firing line. Second, MS efforts in mobile are failure, so even if they really wanted, they have nothing to offer to Nokia. Third, MS modus operandi is to stab their “partners” in the back at first turn of events.

    So totally unanticipated development indeed!

    • Viipottaja

      Ya ya, Ali speaketh the truth!

    • dss

      I think the fact that they got Nokia on a leash shows that they do understand how important mobile phones really are. If they didn’t care about them, why create a whole new kernel specifically for that purpose in the face of Windows CE ?

      And why even put any work to port Windows NT to work on anemic hardware such as the one found in every single windows phone out there ? A lot of work went into that.. stuff like that doesn’t just happen.

      So, they are committed .. Nokia might not have the same luxury of playing the waiting game, but that might play in Microsoft’s hands after a quarter or two. Microsoft has enough cash/flow to sustain Windows Phone for at least another 5 years.. no problem at all, but Nokia.. well.. they don’t.

      I am not sure what they will do with Nokia.. do you keep them afloat, or do you let them crash, and pick up the piece you want from the ruins ? We will see what MS wants to do in due time 🙂

      But for now.. its nice to see Nokia struggle in trying to bring their technologies to the Windows platform and help Microsoft out to the best of their abilities.

      I really wonder how much Bill Gates knew about the Nokia deal, and if he approved it or not… he must have known..

      • Viipottaja

        “Microsoft has enough cash/flow to sustain Windows Phone for at least another 5 years.. no problem at all, but Nokia.. well.. they don’t”

        Well, if Nokia does return to sustained profitability, I guess they do.

        • dss

          Well let’s hope so.. its a big IF tho

        • incognito

          Taking the history of NSN into account, as well as the fact that ye olde feature phone is a dying breed, do you really think that Nokia can get to, and remain in, the sustained profitability category – without the WP getting any serious foothold, for which there are no indications? Serious question.

      • nn

        Yes, so far MS has lot of cash, so they can finance lot of silly things. That doesn’t make them top priority in the eyes of MS. WP is in development for more than half a decade, and WP8 is the result so far. WP simply isn’t priority, it’s just second class citizen, afterthought when important things seems to be covered.

        Even the new kernel means that phones can’t run on less than dualcore with half a giga memory. That’s huge problem for spreading the platform to very low end devices. But if you look at smartphones as appendages of PC, then all is good, it now all runs on (more or less) same code – profit!

        However, that view is wrong. Smartphone is becoming primary device, and PC will be niche appendage. MS doesn’t seem to get that. And Nokia under Elop certainly doesn’t get that.

  • MOOking

    HA HA i was right all this time….even the founder …..the ex CEO is admitting it

  • twig

    Again I would love to see the OS and hardware come under Management of Nokia , while business, advertising, and Bing stay under Microsoft management, do to Nokia’s experience with smartphones, cell phones and different operating systems.

    Statcounter is showing BB not getting any boost from its release of 10 to slow down its plunge in usage.

    Nokia is showing a large increase of customer satisfaction because of its Lumia line.

    • rustyknight17

      source please on BB ?

    • dss

      err.. bb came out 2 weeks ago, Windows Phone has been out for over 48 months and it has the best handset maker fully behind it..

      I think we should wait a bit and see how the bb thing plays out.. it is indeed likely that they might get crushed by the US software cartel, but.. you never know..

    • incognito

      But weren’t the OS (buggy software) and the hardware (underpowered and on a strict diet by the bean counters) the two main reasons why this ludicrous strategic partnership between Nokia and Microsoft were looked upon favorably – i.e. Nokia doesn’t know how to do software, let the biggest software producer fix it for them (and fixed it they did…)

      Why would any honest supporter of Nokia’s new clothes want Nokia back at the wheel of its OS(es) and hardware specs? Wasn’t that the original problem in the first place?

      • Bloob

        yeah, it was

  • GordonH

    This interview speaks volumes of problems within most large software and hardware companies. So now we see MS addressing their problems, while bureaucracy within MS slows things down. WinCE or WP7 was a huge mistake on the MS roadmap and Nokia stupidly jumped on it.

    MS do not use coders from heaven, means MS as a software company will be trying to solve their problems by putting the right engineers at the right job.

    The big difference here is we will never see MS announce their platform as “burning” and move onto a competitors ecosystem.

    • dss

      So you think they should have waited until late 2012 to introduce Windows Phone based on NT instead of dancing around it with CE first ?


    • guerrahp

      Whats worse is that MS has been the perennial loser in the mobile space and yet Nokia jumped in bed with them. Clearly another Mistake!

      • dss

        It was all bad timing for Microsoft… first they had to go against Nokia/Symbian, and they pretty much had no chance and that lasted over a decade. Now they have Google and Apple to deal with.. again.. tough fight.

        At least this time they have a serious OEM on their side, just imagine if they didn’t have Nokia .. lol .. that would have been a disaster, especially if Nokia went with its main rival google, I think its safe to say that it would have been the end of Microsoft’s mobile phone project.

        Despite that, they still had the balls to call the 8X their signature device and call it Windwos Phone 8X.. that is how much of a pus Nokia is at the moment.

        • Gordon Ramsay potkii takaosaa

          Microsoft had some luck because Nokia had to give up their own OS development.

          Nokia just messed up everything with Symbian.

          • GordonH

            OMG … r u for real? WTF

            • Jyrki Sukula ottaa voiton Ramskista

              What part you didn’t understand?

              Microsoft was very lucky to get a partner like Nokia. That should be very clear?

              Nokia pretty much lost most of the high end Symbian sales in 2009 and 2010. That’s why Nokia no longer had a viable OS.

              • GordonH

                “What part you didn’t understand?”
                ahemm … You dude you

    • Gordon Ramsay potkii takaosaa

      MS is lot better in developing operating systems compared to Nokia.

      It’s great to see that Nokia is no longer restricted by their own OS “development”.


      • GordonH

        Is it stupidity or a compulsion to poke around in every comment?

        • Jyrki Sukula ottaa voiton Ramskista

          I think you just have to say that you disagree even while you don’t have any actual arguments you could use in the discussion.

  • Toink

    “Siting the fact that their strategy hasn’t allowed them to get to the top.”


    “In short get it together Billy, and you to Ballmer”


    Grammatical errors, most of the time changes the message you want to convey. Never-the-less I’m still a big fan of this site.

  • richard

    We can’t control everything. We don’t know exactly what will happen. We can’t change the past. So learn from it.

  • Mike

    Mr. Stephen Elop worked for Microsoft and knew how bad Windows Phone was and Nokia still dismantled everything for Windows Phone. Remarkable! And utterly stupid!

    • Jyrki Sukula ottaa voiton Ramskista

      MeeGo would have been even worse OS for Nokia. Hardly more sales and too much developing costs.

      • Mike

        With MeeGo Nokia would have sold more devices than with Windows Phone. MeeGo offered a transition path for current users of Symbian and S40, something which Windows doesn’t offer at all.

        Best thing for Nokia is to leave the smartphone market and focus on what is going well, like networks and maps etc.

        • Jyrki Sukula ottaa voiton Ramskista

          Who would have bought those MeeGo phones?

          Nokia no longer had that many customers in that price segment.

          Getting new customers from people using other brands is a really hard task for anyone. Let alone for someone releasing a brand new OS without a substantial application support.

          • Mike

            Even today there is about 200 million users of Symbian. Symbian is the third OS when looking at installed base.

            Offering high-end MeeGo devices and mid-end Symbian devices Nokia would have kept users and most probably increase users.

            Don’t forget that Nokia sold 100 million smartphones in 2010.

            Application support was there for Qt applications. Only thing which was missing was commitment from Nokia and releasing devices. Instead Elop gave us rupture and bullshit about burning platforms.

            In 2010 Nokia sold 100 million smartphones. In 2011 it was 77 million. In 2012 it was 35 million. So Elop and his management has destroyed sales. Looking at how Elop is performing Nokia will sell 15-20 million smartphones this year.

            Yes, I believe that with MeeGo Nokia would have sold more devices than with Windows Phone.

            • Jyrki Sukula ottaa voiton Ramskista

              Most of those phones are low end or very very old and possibly recycled ones. Not users who are going to buy those high end phones.

              Nokia didn’t have enough high Symbian end sales to be replaced with MeeGo sales. Those users were already gone. That happened already in 2009 and 2010.

              In then end of 2010 there were almost no Qt applications available. So, no real world application support for MeeGo. there was almost no Symbian applications that could have been deploued to MeeGo because very few Symbian applications were built with Qt.

              If you look at the Symbian’s market share graph, it’s obvious that Symbian was already collapsing and Feb 11. didn’t accelerate that.

              You may believe MeeGo would have sold better but for what reason? Low application support and almost no existing customers in high end. Making iOS users to buy MeeGo phones? Hardly.

  • twinklestar1792

    I love the way he accepted the truth that WP is a mistake.

  • revo

    so shuld i go for nokia n8 now, i lika symbian , which is better n701 or n8