Some of the milestones in technology pass as mere tremors, while others sound like a loud thunderclap cracking the sky. In terms of the grand scale of all things tech, after Bill Gates announced this past weekend that he is using an Android phone, you could say that there’s been a slight tectonic shift, as though the plates below the surface of the planet are adjusting.
It’s no small surprise. Microsoft stopped emphasizing mobile operating systems some time ago, releasing Nokia (acquired in 2013, sold last year) to make smartphones and handsets running Android and then refocusing — as only a $73 billion company can do — on its multiple core businesses and total domination in areas like computing infrastructure, AI, desktop operating systems, and productivity software. It’s a blip, but for a company with 124,293 employees, it’s still notable because the most important figure in the history of operating systems is now using an OS designed by archenemy Google.
Cue the apocalypse? Not quite.
Gates also mentioned that he uses mostly Microsoft software on the Android phone. This likely includes Microsoft Word, Skype, Teams, and the Outlook email app, which all work quickly and reliably on Android. The equivalent of this — for anyone into cars — is perhaps a famous car engineer at GM driving around in a Pontiac Vibe, knowing that even though the radio, seating, design, storage areas, handling, and just about every other feature were designed and developed at GM’s now-defunct Pontiac division, the engine is actually from a Toyota Corolla. (Maybe this partly explains why Pontiac doesn’t exist anymore, who knows.)
There are a few implications here, though.
For starters, it makes sense for Gates to pick Android over iOS. Microsoft is in the middle of a bitter battle with Google over productivity software, but Gates himself knows the long history of conflict with Apple intimately. And Android is closer to the Microsoft ethos. You can customize the operating system and run fringe apps easier on Android, and it’s a platform that is widely supported by hundreds of other companies. Dell, Acer, and Asus are direct competitors with Apple. Samsung is a direct competitor with Apple.
Gates likely appreciates the model Google has developed, one that has created a greater market share overall than the iPhone (which is still the most widely used individual smartphone series and a bit of a pop culture icon). If you are a hardcore tech user, it’s more likely you have an Android phone — maybe it’s just to be able to say you are not locked into the Apple ecosystem. Makers and builders want to have fewer restrictions. I’ve long heard that it is easier to get an Android app approved in the Google Play Store than it is to get an app approved in Apple’s App Store. There’s a different mindset, one that is a little more aware of what is inside the phone, whether the storage is expandable, how many games you can run even if they crash once in awhile.
Remember, Gates was originally a bit of a hacker. He broke into a computer system of a major corporation. One look at the smirk on his face from 45 years ago and you know the guy was “up to something” and willing to buck the system. The truth? Of course he uses Android.
Do you agree? Is it a sellout and a compromise? Send me your thoughts by email.