Book Review: Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the battle for the Internet
The book “Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the battle for the Internet”, from Guardian technology editor Charles Arthur, and published by Kogan Page is a journalistic exploration into three of the major players in the modern technology industry and how the internet became the battleground for dominance in a number of key areas.
At 272 pages and seven chapters the exploration covers the period between 1998 to 2011 and includes the areas of search, digital music, smartphones, and the new battleground of tablet devices. There can be little doubt that the three companies included in the book play a big part in our every day lives and whilst they may, on the surface, appear distinct in their own perceived areas it is an eye opener to see how they are continually battling for dominance.
The book starts out in 1998 reflecting upon each of the organisations and their leaders: Bill Gates and Microsoft, Steve Jobs and Apple, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin from Google. At this point it should be noted that whilst the book title suggests a “Battle for the Internet” the actual exploration uses the antitrust trials of Microsoft and Windows as a jumping off point for its introspection into the battle for devices and services and as such there is little in the way of direct Internet battles.
Whilst digging deep into the archives Charles Arthur reports his findings in a very accessible way. As an example he tells us that “At the beginning of 2007, the top five handset makers – Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and LG – sold 85 percent of all phones” and goes on to tell us that Smartphones formed less than 7 percent of those sales. To put this into perspective most modern mobile phones would be considered Smartphones. In addition the “drawer of broken dreams” story neatly sums up the struggle Microsoft faced when trying to compete in the early mobile phone space, back in 2007, whilst the “40 shades of blue” project at Google, to “find which shade of blue for a weblink is most likely to be clicked on”, contrasts the engineering first culture within Google.
A particularly fascinating insight in the book is the Apple/Adobe row over Flash which is covered in the smartphones chapter and the author describes this issue as “may be one of the most important in indicating where the ‘mobile internet’ is headed, and how the balance of power can be swayed.”. Anyone who has been keeping up to date with the Flash debacle might consider this a potential story for an entire book of its own – given the heritage behind the particular plugin.
Microsoft clearly has had a difficult time, as reading through the book the company does appear to have consistently failed to deliver against its aspirations, summed up by the author when exploring the area of digital music, “Microsoft had to face some uncomfortable truths: it has been bested in software development by Apple…”. Conversely, Apple comes out surprisingly well as “It’s reputation has been transformed from put-upon also-ran PC maker to world-spanning design brand.”. If there is one criticism it might be that the book could use more exploration into Google beyond the chapter on search, for example in the office application space where Google and its docs service provides an alternative to the popular Microsoft Office or in the mapping space given that Apple currently relies on Google Maps and is rumoured to be readying its own alternative.
Overall, Digital Wars is a fascinating read and includes enough references for those wanting to delve deeper into the story. Digital Wars is available now in paperback (ISBN: 9780749464134), and eBook, for a recommended price of £14.99 (current online price is around £9.74 price checked Amazon 11th May 2012). For more information head over Kogan Page: Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the Battle for the Internet. Buy “Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the battle for the Internet” now from Amazon.