What you have with Dogfight is, basically, Fred Vogelstein doing a Peter Biskind with the key players from the tech industry over the course of the last decade to paint a picture of the unlikely innovators who have managed to make a place for themselves in the zeitgeist. On the one side you have the likes of the late Steve Jobs and Apple and on the other Larry Page, Eric Schmidt and Google; in between you have a tale of co-conspirators, Google and Apple working together on the development of software and products, even as one (Google) started to make inroads into the other’s ostensible territory. It is round about the time that Apple launch their first iPhone that Google’s Android begins to take shape and from then the two organisations start to butt heads.
It’s a good story, a Social Network looking for a David Fincher, and there are enough about faces and ups and downs to warrant the title – Apple stealing a march with the iPhone, losing ground to Google thanks to Android’s approximation of the open source method with its flexibility regarding development – a model that it appears Apple could learn a lot from until it bites Google on the ass (or at least looms menacingly on the horizon). And then, of course, there is the game changer that is the iPad and, for a while, nothing but clear blue sea between Apple and Google – until the death of Steve Jobs and the apparent stagnation of Apple’s previously burning innovation.
There are flaws, however. Vogelstein doesn’t have Biskind’s gift for characterisation (or perhaps the characters he is talking about just don’t have the colour of the Hollywood bad boys) and so a lot of the big wigs blur into one another. There is also a sense in which the dogfight runs out of steam right after the big Samsung adjudication, and Vogelstein turns his focus on the TV networks and the challenge presented by the take-up of tablets and the way in which people consume entertainment differently. The TV stuff is interesting, it just feels like a tangent, a separate article placed within a book that shouts its polarity from the cover. Right at the climax we return to the dogfight but it feels like an afterthought (and an afterthought in which Vogelstein seems to afford championship status to Google despite evidence to the contrary).
All told it’s an interesting read that you feel could have been an excellent read if a little more time had been taken to understand the key players rather than just describe the events of the last few years. This is a book that feels like an extended article rather than an article that found its legs and matured into a book. There’s enough here that you probably don’t know to broaden your understanding of the battle some, but there is also the sneaking suspicion that the book was written at speed to meet a deadline. On the plus side, this does mean that Vogelstein is able to deliver a narrative that is pretty bang up to date.
Any Cop?: We might have to wait a wee while longer for the defining work on the whole Google / Apple decade, but until then you could do a lot worse than gen up on what Vogelstein has to say.