Features & Columns

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

Former allies Apple and Google got along just fine,
until a smartphone came between them
Apple Google War

ANYONE considering writing a novel about Silicon Valley or a spy thriller set in the computer industry should forget about it. Why? Because the truth is often more entertaining, especially in the case of Fred Vogelstein's new book, Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution. The story contains many elements of an epic saga, with all the betrayal and ego-jockeying one finds in mainstream fiction.

Vogelstein has covered the PC and mobile industries for many years now. Dogfight is the result of building a network of sources over the course of half his adult life, perhaps. It could only have been written by someone with deep insider connections, both on and off the record, which is precisely why it reads like a spy thriller. As the story goes, Apple and Google were once tight buddies. As Vogelstein explains it, they planned on a long and prosperous marriage. They had a common enemy: Microsoft. But in just a few short years, the bonds unraveled. Secrets were kept, promises were broken, friends betrayed each other and the two companies went to war, just as they both shaped the rise of mobile as a new de facto platform, essentially leaving Microsoft behind.

That much is essentially known by nearly everyone in Silicon Valley. But what Vogelstein reveals in Dogfight are the unsung heroes, the politics and the personality conflicts that percolated behind the scenes, beginning with the development of the first iPhone. He illuminates several folks who toiled away working on various parts of the device, straight up until minutes before launch. In harrowing detail, he documents the dramatic personality wars between Scott Forstall and Tony Fadell at Apple, all while Steve Jobs intentionally played them off each other, in pure Machiavellian fashion. On the Google side, Vogelstein details the degree to which Andy Rubin's Android team, at first, worked in near secrecy, a veritable stealth startup operation within Google, completely unbeknownst to the rest of the Googlers—not the way the company normally functioned. At the same time Google was secretly developing Android, it was also scheming with Apple to get Google's products on the new iPhone.

In the book, hostile meetings previously kept off the record are now revealed. Secrecy, leaks and backbiting within both companies are now brought to the surface. Vogelstein eventually takes the narrative right where he should take it—toward what many have predicted with various degrees of accuracy for 20 years now—that the cultures of Silicon Valley and Hollywood are merging.

Dogfight published earlier this month. I played with a prototype—it felt like an advance iPhone leaked to the press, or something similar—so, without spoiling the ending, I'll reveal what underpins most of this soap opera. Basically, Apple and Google, during the era this book documents, were two very different companies. Apple prided itself on absolute secrecy, strict hierarchies and control of everything it made, along with every scenario surrounding how its products are unleashed on the masses. Google was more open-ended, more bent toward informal sharing, more accepting of chaos and goofiness: "Throw your products out there, don't worry what's finished and what's not finished, which ones will be hits or not, just roll with it." Turns out it was precisely this polarity, that combination of opposite approaches, that alchemically fused together in borderline mystical fashion to upend every other high-tech industry and revolutionize everything. The two companies were both friends and enemies at the same time. Just like the black and white of the yin and yang symbol, there was a little bit of one in the other—a little bit of Apple in Google and vice-versa. You can't imagine one without the other, and it is precisely the interaction of both that changed the world — and will continue to change the world — and should finally do away with both Microsoft and cable television.

Gary Singh interviews Fred Vogelstein: Can the iPhone and Android peacefully coexist? Dogfight author Fred Vogelstein sizes up the players ... read more

Read an excerpt from Dogfight: The iPhone didn't start out as Apple's "next big thing." Steve Jobs had to be talked into building a phone. It had been a topic of conversation among his inner circle almost from the moment Apple launched the iPod in 2001... read more