Steve Jobs was many things: visionary, showman, iconoclast, hippie, bully, mentor. It turns out he was also naive.
By MICHAEL S. ROSENWALD
The Washington Post
As Fred Vogelstein writes in Dogfight, his illuminating, fast-paced book on the war between Apple and Google, Apple engineers knew that Google was working on its Android phone software as they were preparing to release the iPhone in 2007.
But Jobs wasnt worried. The companies were partners, even friends. Jobs was a mentor to Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Google chief executive Eric Schmidt was an Apple board member, even appearing onstage when Jobs introduced the iPhone.
These Google guys would never betray Jobs.
But of course they did.
When Google entered the mobile-phone business, Brin and Page knew the stakes. Its hard to imagine a more revolutionary object than the object the two companies started fighting over: the smartphone, Vogelstein aptly writes. The smartphone has fundamentally changed the way humans get and process information, and that is changing the world in ways that are almost too large to imagine.
Apple vs. Google is a battle over who controls the new way information music, video, words, pictures, data flows through the world.
That Google opened up a lemonade stand right next to his own enraged Jobs, and it led Apple to sue Googles hardware partners around the world. It eventually led to a tablet battle that in the coming years will almost certainly lead to a TV battle.
What this means is that Apple versus Google isnt just a run-of-the-mill spat between two rich companies, Vogelstein writes. It is the defining business battle of a generation.
If that strikes you as hyperbole or silly words about silly gadgets, the next time you have dinner with your spouse at Applebees, look up from your smartphone and gaze around: Youre probably not the only one scrolling on a gadget when you should be, you know, talking. These tiny screens dominate our lives. We are entertained by them. Our children learn with them in school. Our doctors diagnose us with them.
They disrupt industries television, newspapers, book publishing, Ma Bell, who knows whats next.
Surveys have shown that not a small percentage of Americans would give up sex for a week before giving up their smartphones.
Vogelstein, a contributing editor at Wired, does a solid job introducing us to the foot soldiers in the information war the non-household names who engineer the devices and software we cant quite put down. Jobs, it turns out, was more a master editor of other peoples ideas than strictly an idea generator of his own, terrain that Walter Isaacson previously explored in his brilliant Jobs biography.
Perhaps the most riveting part of Vogelsteins book is his re-creation of the days leading up to Jobs now-famous introduction of the iPhone. What nobody knew as Jobs showed off the device onstage is that it barely worked. It was riddled with bugs, and there was only a faint chance it could actually complete a call.
Engineers gave Jobs a golden path of tasks to perform for his show, ordering the functions so the phone wouldnt crash. They sat in the audience taking shots of scotch after each successful part of the demo. By the end, the flask was empty. The iPhone worked. It was, as so many said afterward, magical.
Vogelstein seems to think Googles smartphone and tablet strategy mostly giving away its software to manufacturers to put on their devices is beating Apples grand ambition, which is to control everything, from the glass to the icons. He notes that Googles Android software dominates the smartphone market and is running neck-and-neck in tablets.
Those stats are true but miss more important data points. For one, Apple has never cared much about market share. It does care about profits, and it controls more than half of smartphone profits around the world, though Samsung is closing in. Also, its not just how many devices Apple sells but what people do with them.
And thats a lot. Industry statistics show that Apples operating system crushes Android in the United States when it comes to mobile Web traffic the very bits of information Google and Apple are brawling over. The more data that flow through Apples devices, the more entrenched those devices become in peoples lives. And Apple sells more. Its the circle of digital life.
Already Apple is slowly easing users away from Googles services.
Apples Siri voice search is now powered by Microsofts Bing.
Google Maps no longer comes preinstalled on the iPhone.
Vogelstein thinks Google is also beating Apple on the software side, noting Apples recent debacle with its maps program. This point is debatable. I find some of Googles productivity apps better than Apples, but Android overall is clunky and not as smooth or pretty.
I doubt my mom could figure it all out, but I do know that when I bought her an iPhone, she held it up to see how thin it was, peering as she would at a museum piece.
And that brings me to one of the few shortcomings of Vogelsteins book the way he underappreciates product design in this war, especially in appealing to the masses.
Apples chief designer, the handsome, tight-T-shirt-wearing British knight Jony Ive, is but a bit player in Vogelsteins book. I think thats a mistake. Consumers ogle smartphones and tablets as they would a Donatello sculpture. Apples marketers play a large role in shaping that fascination, positioning their devices as works of art built with novel, high-end materials.
On its website, for instance, Apple notes that the iconic Home button on the new iPhone 5S is made with laser-cut sapphire crystal.
Michael Rosenwald, a Washington Post reporter, often writes about the impact of technology.