[11 February 2014]
The first chapter of Fred Vogeistein’s Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution didn’t make me think about technology. Yes, this chapter is titled “The Moon Mission”, follows the movements of one of Apple’s senior engineers, and opens on 8 January 2007 (the day Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone). Still, the talk of battery life, prototypes, and Jobs being able to read an email while sitting on the toilet didn’t make me think about iPods, iPads, or iPhones.
Instead, I kept thinking back to Henry the VIII and Queen Elizabeth. The intrigue. How easy it was to move in and out of favor. The Tower. The beheadings.
Then I got to the third chapter and realized that my thoughts weren’t really that strange. In this chapter, Jobs is referred to as “Machiavellian”, and an executive claims “I think Steve would have been great during ancient Roman times, where you could watch people get thrown to the lions and be eaten.” A few paragraphs later the disputes between several Apple executives are compared to a religious war.
And note: this is just the tension within Apple. We haven’t even really gotten to the battle between Apple and Google, yet. As Vogeistein paints it, there was enough bitterness and backstabbing inside of Apple to warrant the title Dogfight. Of course, as later chapters reveal, Google had its own share of backbiting and secrecy.
This all fits into the larger narrative. With chapter titles like “I Thought We Were Friends” and “The Consequences of Betrayal”, Vogeistein can’t just be talking about technology; he also has to be talking about people. And the technological world he shows us is a small one, where players know each other, jump from company to company, and sometimes even consider (at least for brief moments in time) themselves friends.
From the first iPhone to the Android to the iPad, Vogeistein traces the paths these companies and their visionaries took in the quest for mobile device dominance. He covers the expected—the development of the new technologies, the partnerships (alliances?) between different companies, the patent wars, the lawsuits, and the trials. When possible, Vogeistein tried to interview employees and did conduct a great deal of first-hand research. In fact, one highlight is hearing from people who aren’t household names like Andy Grignon, an engineer at Apple, or lawyer John Quinn. Still, Vogeistein references both Stephen Levy’s work and Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs frequently.
Techies, early adopters, and entrepreneurs will undoubtedly be drawn to the subject matter, but Vogeistein’s writing is engaging, and the book should capture the attention of a larger audience. Sometimes it’s the little gems of research that add sparkle. He recalls a quote from a Cingular executive in 2008: “Jobs was cool. He was hip. There were studies done in colleges that asked, ‘What is the one thing you can’t live without?’ For twenty years it was beer. Now it was the iPod…” and notes that, for a time, Andy Rubin had a white board in his office that read “STEVE JOBS STOLE MY LUNCH MONEY”.
Another reason this book isn’t just for techies and business types is because it’s about lot more than just phones. In the introduction, Vogeistein says “Apple versus Google isn’t just a run-of-the-mill spat between two rich companies. It is the defining business battle of a generation.” Vogeistein returns to these ideas in the last chapter, “Changing the World One Screen at a Time”. Here he notes what happens to “those on the wrong end of these [media and technological] changes” and specifically cites print newspapers’ dwindling circulations, book publishers’ woes (and their concerns about Amazon), and DVD sales (or lack thereof).
Vogeistein is quick to follow up with this idea, though: “the mobile revolution has also created scores of new moneymaking opportunities—particularly in television—and it is enabling business partnerships never before thought possible”. He notes that before Jobs died, he “told biographer Isaacson that he’d finally figured out a way for Apple to” do something big in television. And the tech companies certainly have the money to do so: “add up the cash on the balance sheets of Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Netflix, it approaches $300 billion—enough to buy all the big cable companies and broadcast networks combined”.
It’s no wonder Dogfight is somewhat of a page turner. There’s the money. There’s the rivalry: the book flap opens with this quote from Jobs “Google wants to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them. Their Don’t Be Evil mantra? It’s bullshit.” There’s the power; Vogeistein maintains that the smartphone changed everything, and it’s hard to argue the point.
Last, there’s the writing. Vogeistein is a good technology and business writer. When talking about the Apple/Samsung trial, he notes “business trials can be painfully dull.” So can business (and technology) books; Vogeistein proves they don’t have to be.