Apple CEO Steve Jobs praised Bill Gates and warned of trouble ahead for Amazon and Google in a rare interview this week.

On the retirement of Bill Gates, Jobs told the New York Times: "Bill's retiring from Microsoft is a big deal. It's a significant event, and I think he should be honoured for the contributions he's made."

Jobs also explained that Apple went through 100 design prototypes of the MacBook Air before choosing the model that was revealed on Monday.

The Apple co-founder also warned that Amazon could face barriers when it comes to selling its Kindle e-Book reader: "It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore," he said. "Forty per cent of the people in the US read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."

Jobs also warned that Google's move to introduce its own mobile phone operating system, Android, may actually set back that firm's ambitions in the mobile market. This is because it means devices powered by its OS will compete with those produced by mobile makers who may also carry Google software on their devices.

"I actually think Google has achieved their goal without Android, and I now think Android hurts them more than it helps them," he said. "It’s just going to divide them and people who want to be their partners."

Speaking with CNBC, Apple's boss also spilled the beans on his company's rumoured talks with China Mobile over shipping the iPhone in China. Reports have claimed these talks broke down, but Jobs characterised iPhone-related activity between the two firms as basically consisting of one representative from the mobile firm visiting Apple headquarters once.

While the Far East markets are in Apple's sights, Jobs claimed no intensive discussions with a view to launching the iPhone there have yet taken place.

It's possible steps to improve Apple's presence in the Chinese-speaking markets may now be taken, following the appointment of Avon CEO Andrea Jung to Apple's board. Jung is a fluent Mandarin speaker.