Top critical review
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An interesting read that barely scratches the surface of digital
on 5 January 2014
This is a decent overview of some of the biggest events to happen across the digital space in the last 20 years focusing mostly on search and mobile and the three big Western players in the space. It's an interesting account and Arthur puts forward some interesting interpretations - tainted a little at the beginning by relying on Malcolm Gladwell as authoritative on personalities - applied seemingly at random through the narrative.
Well, it seems random partly because the narrative itself is quite random. Roughly chronological, it focuses on a couple of big themes (search and mobile), missed opportunities etc. It's basically a flimsy framework with some very interesting nuggets - many of which are already fairly widespread, eg in the Jobs biographies - attached, though Arthur's experience in tech journalism comes to the fore with several stories from his career lacing the narrative.
This is well-written and a good read. It does feel somewhat piecemeal and it's a shame, because this writing style along with deeper research and some further analytical thought could have made for a very good overview of digital as a whole (not focused on Microsoft, Google and Apple) over the last couple of decades. Missed opportunity.
A further annoyance is that by relying on these three companies, a lot of international development in digital has been ignored. China in the last 6 or 7 years, parallel with the development of the iPhone, has made huge leaps in digital. No mention of the massive app install base in China. No mention of the absolutely huge market as yet still properly tapped by Apple and Google (for financial and ethical reasons) and Microsoft (for copyright reasons). This book would have been worthy of an extra star for throwing a Baidu or Xiaomi into the mix instead of a throwaway comment about custom Android builds.
As a result, the book feels extremely lacking. Still, very much worth a read. Just make sure you do it on a Kindle ;)