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This is the story of how Apple and Google have reshaped our world and redefined the meaning of content and how it is distributed.
It begins with the iPhone, which has transformed the concept of what a smart phone can be. Now everyone wants one, or else a smart phone like it. Apple and Google are fighting to find a way to control the software that runs these phones so they can manage the content that runs on top of it. The battle has become vicious, although Google makes more than half the apps that run on Apple devices. There may be room for both, but the history of technology suggests that only one player will be dominant in the long term. Author Fred Vogelstein recounts that struggle and describes the impact it is having on the rest of the media and on technology.
Filled with in-depth interviews of key players and behind-the-scenes accounts of corporate strategy, Dogfight is a must-read for anyone interested in the biggest societal and technological shift since the Industrial Revolution.
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FRED VOGELSTEIN is a business and technology journalist and a contributing editor for Wired magazine, for which he was a 2010 finalist for the Gerald R. Loeb Award. His writing has appeared in Fortune , US News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, The New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Moon Mission
The fifty-five miles from Campbell to San Francisco is one of the nicest commutes anywhere. The journey mostly zips along the Junipero Serra Freeway, a grand and remarkably empty highway that abuts the east side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Known as 280 to locals, it is one of the best places in Silicon Valley to spot a start-up tycoon speed-testing his Ferrari and one of the worst places for cell phone reception. For Andy Grignon in his Porsche Carrera, therefore, it was the perfect place for him to be alone with his thoughts early on January 8, 2007.
This wasn’t Grignon’s typical route to work. He was a senior engineer at Apple in Cupertino, the town just west of Campbell. His morning drive typically covered seven miles and took exactly fifteen minutes. But today was different. He was going to watch his boss, Steve Jobs, make history at the Macworld trade show in San Francisco. Apple fans had for years begged Jobs to put a cell phone inside their iPods so they could stop carrying two devices in their pockets. Jobs was about to fulfill that wish. Grignon and some colleagues would spend the night at a nearby hotel, and at 10:00 a.m. the following day they—along with the rest of the world—would watch Jobs unveil the first iPhone.
Getting invited to one of Jobs’s famous product announcements was supposed to be a great honor. It anointed you as a player. Only a few dozen Apple employees, including top executives, got an invite. The rest of the spots were reserved for Apple’s board of directors, CEOs of partners—such as Eric Schmidt of Google and Stan Sigman at AT&T—and journalists from around the world. Grignon got an invite because he was the senior engineer for all the radios in the iPhone. This is a big job. Cell phones do innumerable useful things for us today, but at their most basic they are fancy two-way radios. Grignon was in charge of the equipment that allowed the phone to be a phone. If the phone didn’t make calls, connect with Bluetooth headsets, or connect to Wi-Fi setups, Grignon had to answer for it. As one of the iPhone’s earliest engineers, he’d dedicated two and a half years of his life—often seven days a week—to the project. Few deserved to be there more than he did.
But as Grignon drove north, he didn’t feel excited. He felt terrified. Most onstage product demonstrations in Silicon Valley are canned. The thinking goes, why let bad Internet or cell phone connections ruin an otherwise good presentation? Jobs’s presentations were live, however. It was one of the things that made his shows so captivating. But for those in the background, such as Grignon, few parts of the job caused more stress. Grignon couldn’t remember the last time a Jobs show of this magnitude had gone sideways. Part of what made Steve Jobs such a legend was that noticeable product-demo glitches almost never happened. But Grignon found it hard to recall the last time Jobs was so unprepared going into a show.
Grignon had been part of the iPhone launch-preparation team at Apple and later at the presentation site in San Francisco’s Moscone Center. But he had rarely seen Jobs make it all the way through his ninety-minute show without a glitch. Jobs had been rehearsing for five days, yet even on the last day of rehearsals the iPhone was still randomly dropping calls, losing the Internet connection, freezing, or just shutting down.
“At first it was just really cool to be at rehearsals at all—kind of like a cred badge. ‘Fuck yeah, I get to hang out with Steve,’” Grignon said. Like everything else that surrounded Jobs, the preparations were as secret as a U.S. missile attack on Afghanistan. Those who were truly in felt as if they were at the center of the universe. From Thursday through the end of the following week, Apple completely took over Moscone. Backstage it built an eight-by-eight-foot electronics lab to house and test the iPhones. Next to that it built a greenroom with a sofa for Jobs. Then it posted more than a dozen security guards twenty-four hours a day in front of those rooms and at doors throughout the building. No one got in or out without having his or her ID electronically checked and compared with a master list that Jobs had personally approved. More security checkpoints needed to be cleared once visitors got inside. The auditorium where Jobs was rehearsing was off-limits to all but a small group of executives. Jobs was so obsessed with leaks that he tried to have all the contractors Apple had hired for the announcement—from people manning booths and doing demos to those responsible for lighting and sound—sleep in the building the night before his presentation. Aides talked him out of it.
“It quickly got really uncomfortable,” Grignon said. “Very rarely did I see him become completely unglued. It happened. But mostly he just looked at you and very directly said in a very loud and stern voice, ‘You are fucking up my company,’ or, ‘If we fail, it will be because of you.’ He was just very intense. And you would always feel an inch tall [when he was done chewing you out].” Grignon said that you would always ask yourself two questions during one of these lectures: “‘Is it my shit that broke this time?’ and ‘Is it the nth time it broke or the first time?’—because that actually mattered. The nth time would frustrate him, but by then he might have figured out a way around it. But if it was the first time, it added a whole new level of instability to the program.” Grignon, like everyone else at rehearsals, knew that if those glitches showed up during the real presentation, Jobs would not be blaming himself for the problems, he would come after people like Grignon. “It felt like we’d gone through the demo a hundred times and that each time something went wrong,” Grignon said. “It wasn’t a good feeling.”
* * *
The iPhone didn’t work right for a good reason; it wasn’t close to being finished. Jobs was showing off a prototype. He just didn’t want the public to know that. But the list of things that still needed to be done before the iPhone could be sold was enormous. A production line had yet to be set up. Only about a hundred iPhones even existed, all of them of varying degrees of quality. Some had noticeable gaps between the screen and the plastic edge, others had scuff marks on the screen. Thus no one in the public was allowed to touch an iPhone after Jobs unveiled it, despite a day of press briefings and a whole exhibit set up for them in the convention center. The worry was that even the best prototypes wouldn’t stand close scrutiny, Grignon said. They’d look fine at a distance and for Jobs’s demo, but if you held one in your hand, “You would laugh and say, ‘Wow, this thing really looks unfinished.’”
The phone’s software was in even worse shape. A big chunk of the previous four months had been consumed figuring out why the iPhone’s processor and its cell radio wouldn’t reliably communicate. This huge problem was akin to a car with an engine that occasionally doesn’t respond to the accelerator, or wheels that occasionally don’t respond to the brake pedal. “It almost brought the iPhone program to a halt,” Grignon said. “We had never seen a problem this complicated.” This was ordinarily not a problem for phone makers, but Apple’s obsession with secrecy had kept Samsung, the manufacturer of the phone’s processor, and Infineon, the maker of the phone’s cell radio, from working together until Apple, in desperation, flew teams of engineers from each company to Cupertino to help fix the problem.
Jobs rarely backed himself into corners like this. He was well-known as a master taskmaster, seeming to always know just how hard he could push his staff so that they delivered the impossible. But he always had a backup, a Plan B, that he could go to if his timetable was off. Six months prior he’d shown off Apple’s upcoming operating system, Leopard. But that was after letting the date for the final unveiling slip.
But Jobs had no choice but to show off the iPhone. He had given this opening keynote at every Macworld since he’d returned as Apple’s CEO in 1997, and because he gave public presentations only once or twice a year, he had conditioned Apple fans to expect big things from them. He’d introduced iTunes here, the iMac that looked like a fancy desk lamp, the Safari web browser, the Mac mini, and the iPod shuffle.
It wasn’t just his own company that Jobs had to worry about disappointing this time. AT&T was expecting Jobs to unveil the iPhone at Macworld too. In exchange for being the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the United States, AT&T had given Jobs total control of the design, manufacture, and marketing of the iPhone. It had never done anything like this before. If Jobs didn’t launch on time, AT&T could back out of its deal. It’s not hard to explain that a product called the iPhone that couldn’t make calls would sell poorly. Days before, Jobs had flown to Las Vegas to give AT&T’s top mobile executives a limited demo of the iPhone. But they were expecting a full show at Macworld.
Lastly, the iPhone was truly the only cool new thing Apple was working on. The iPhone had been such an all-encompassing project at Apple that this time there was no backup plan. “It was Apple TV or the iPhone,” Grignon said. “And if he had gone to Macworld with just Apple TV [an experimental product back then], the world would have said, ‘What the hell was that?’”
* * *
The iPhone’s problems were manifest. It could play a section of a song or a video, but it couldn’t play an entire clip without crashing. It worked fine if you sent an email and then surfed the web. If you did those things in reverse, however, it did not. Hours of trial and error had helped the iPhone team develop what engineers called “the golden path,” a specific set of tasks, performed in a specific way and in a specific order, that made the phone look as if it worked.
But even when Jobs stayed on the golden path, it required all manner of last-minute work-arounds to make the iPhone functional. On announcement day the software that ran Grignon’s radios still had bugs. So too did the software that managed the iPhone’s memory. And no one knew whether the extra electronics Jobs had required to be added to the demo units would make these problems worse.
Jobs had required the demo phones he would use onstage to have their screens mirrored on the big screen behind him. To show a gadget on a big screen, most companies just point a video camera connected to a projector at the gadget. That was unacceptable to Jobs. The audience would see his finger on the iPhone screen, which would mar the look of his presentation. Instead, he had Apple engineers spend weeks fitting extra circuit boards attached to video cables onto the backs of the iPhones he would have onstage. The video cables then connected to the projector showing the iPhone image on the screen. When Jobs touched the iPhone’s calendar app icon, for example, his finger wouldn’t appear, but the image on the big screen would respond. The effect was magical. People in the audience felt as if they were holding an iPhone in their own hands. But making the setup work flawlessly given the iPhone’s other major problems seemed hard to justify at the time. “It was all just so monkey-patched together with some of the ugliest hacks you could imagine,” Grignon said.
The software in the iPhone’s Wi-Fi radio was so unstable that Grignon and his team ultimately soldered antenna wires to the demo phones and ran them offstage along the wires to the projection setup. The iPhone would still connect wirelessly to the network, but the signal wouldn’t have to travel as far. Even then, Grignon and his team needed to make sure no one in the audience could get on the frequency they were using. “Even if the base station’s ID was hidden [and therefore not showing up when laptops scanned for Wi-Fi signals], you had five thousand nerds in the audience. They would have figured out how to hack into the signal.” The solution, Grignon said, was simply to tweak the AirPort software to think it was operating in Japan instead of the United States. Japanese Wi-Fi uses some frequencies that are not permitted in the U.S.
There was even less they could do to make sure the phone call Jobs planned to make from the stage went through. All Grignon and his team could do was make sure the signal was good and pray. They had AT&T bring in a portable cell tower so they knew reception would be strong. Then, with Jobs’s support, they preprogrammed the phone’s display to always show five bars of signal strength regardless of the true signal. The chances of the radio’s crashing during the few minutes that Jobs would use it to make a call were small, but the chances of its crashing at some point during the ninety-minute presentation were high. “If the radio crashed and restarted, as we suspected it might, we didn’t want people in the audience to see that. So we just hard-coded it to always show five bars,” Grignon said.
None of these kluges fixed the iPhone’s biggest problem: it often ran out of memory and had to be restarted if asked to do more than a handful of tasks at a time. Jobs had a number of demo units onstage with him to manage this problem. If memory ran low on one, he’d switch to another while the first was restarted. But given how many demos Jobs planned, Grignon worried that there were far too many potential points of failure. If disaster didn’t strike during one of the dozen demos, it was sure to happen during Jobs’s grand finale, when Jobs planned to show all the iPhone’s top features operating at the same time on the same phone. He’d play some music, take a call, put it on hold and take another call, find and email a photo to the second caller, look up something on the Internet for the first caller, and then return to his music. “Me and my guys were all so nervous about this. We only had 120 megabytes of memory in those phones, and because they weren’t finished, all these apps were still big and bloated,” Grignon said.
The idea that one of the biggest moments of his career might implode made Grignon’s stomach hurt. At forty, Grignon looks like the kind of guy you’d want to drink with—and he is. When he moved from Campbell to Half Moon Bay in 2010, he quickly became friendly with the sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. He even had a wine fridge in his office. But behind that gregarious exterior is a fierce intellect and an ultracompetitive streak. Once when trying to get to the bottom of a slew of software bugs in an iPhone subcontractor’s equipment, he turned the AC on high in the conference room he used to make the subcontractors uncomfortably cold. When that didn’t get them moving fast enough, he tried a more aggressive approach: he accused them of holding out on him and threw his laptop against the wall.
By 2007 he’d spent virtually his entire fifteen-year career at Apple or companies affiliated with it. While at the University of Iowa in 1993, he and his friend Jeremy Wyld—now cofounder with Grignon of Quake Labs—reprogrammed the Newton MessagePad to wirelessly connect to the Internet. That was quite a feat back then, and it helped them both get jobs at Apple right out of school. Wyld actually worked on the Newton team, and Grignon worked in Apple’s famous R & D lab—the Advanced Technology Group—on video conferencing technology. Even though the Newton did not succeed as a product, many still think of it as the first mainstream handheld computer. But by 2000 Grignon had found his way to Pixo, a company spun out of Apple that was building operating systems for cell phones and other small devices. When Pixo’s software found its way into the first iPod in 2002, Grignon f...
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