walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

_Dogfight_, Fred Vogelstein

Subtitled: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution

Okay, the genealogist in me feels compelled to point out that last name. I guess "stone bird" makes sense, but "bird stone" makes me giggle. Totally irrelevant; apologies if I offended anyone with that last name.

As I noted when reviewing Brad Stone's book about Amazon, the kinds of sources you have available really drive the sort of book you can write. Vogelstein's sources on the Apple side were really limited, and even on the Google side more engineering than executive (I really want to say c-suite here, which means I've probably been watching too much Bloomberg again). Obvs, it is easier to get people to speak candidly when they have moved on to another endeavor, particularly if they are desperately trying to attract attention to the new endeavor.

That said, Vogelstein produced a cogent timeline with enough technical detail to convey the difficulty of inventing? developing? implementing? the modern "smartphone" or "pocket computer". He, himself, seemed surprised at the difficulty here and how many of the limitations were hardware side limitations. He does a very good job of conveying how skeptical everyone was of the idea that you could put a "real" OS on a phone, and helps make sense of numerous corporate decisions -- at both companies -- to run seemingly incompatible initiatives in parallel because they really didn't _know_ which ones were going to work out. Throughout, Vogelstein's frame is that Apple and Google are reproducing, in many ways, the platform wars once engage din by Apple and Microsoft. At the midpoint of the book, it becomes clear that he really believes that Apple is going to lose again, and for the same reason.

Which is really weird. He might be right, but I think he has picked the wrong frame. At the beginning of his tale, Apple and Google got along great (actually, for large chunks of his tale), sharing many values, including their mutual antipathy to Microsoft. But over time, Microsoft became less relevant, and the cooperation dissolved as competitive pressure between the two built, eventually showing up in presentations, remarks in the press and other publication and lawsuits. This part of the story is compelling and well developed. Less compelling is the idea that this competition mirrors the older competition (and will have the same outcome for Apple). I don't see any reason that the new conflict couldn't be framed as Ford vs. GM or Pepsi vs. Coke or any number of other stories competitive relationships. The prediction from that frame shift would be dramatically different: this could go on for a very long while.

When writing a book -- any book -- choosing what is in scope and what is out of scope is tremendously difficult and in general, I support an author's choices as long as the book stays under 400 pages or the digital equivalent. Past 400 pages, I feel like the author had really better have made Really Excellent choices that I Almost Entirely agree with, because they are now expecting two books worth of my time and attention. Vogelstein's decisions about in-and-out of scope (Amazon is incredibly peripheral to everything in the story, which considering the Fire's position in the android tablet universe is a little odd, and considering the whole e-book thing is also a little odd) mostly make sense (altho I would have been so much happier with more detail on the Google hardware development side -- not just the phones, but the Chromebook and similar).

It's a fun read, and at no point did I go, oh, that so didn't happen (the non-fiction equivalent of failure to suspend disbelief, and a much more serious issue, at least for me). A very enjoyable slice of corporate drama.
Tags: book review, our future economy today
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