Majeed Ahmad's two volumes give a reporter's roundup of the smartphone story so far, but there's more yet to be told.
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- I have often wondered what it would look like if I were to save all the stories my peers and I have written on a given topic and compile them into a book. If the topic were smartphones, I think it might look a lot like two recent volumes from a former colleague of mine.
Majeed Ahmad, former editor in chief of EE Times Asia, chronicles the history of the smartphone in Smartphone: Mobile Revolution at the Crossroads of Communications, Computing and Consumer Electronics. A followup book, Nokia's Smartphone Problem: The End of an Icon?, does a deep dive on the king of the pre-iPhone cellphone. Both books are based heavily on reporting from EE Times and a handful of other publications.
Ahmad has done a great job marshaling a wealth of reporting in these books. There's a ton of detail here for those who are looking for historical lessons, examples of mistakes not to repeat, or just an interesting read.
The book on Nokia makes a particularly useful case study. As a former editor in chief of EE Times used to tell us, a company that is dominant in one era typically takes a big fall when a disruptive technology comes along. Nokia's story is still being told, but it clearly has taken such a fall. Whether it ever gets on its feet again may the subject of a future book.
I grew up as a reporter watching the rise of mobile technology way back in the days when Taiwan was experimenting with the first notebooks and palmtops. It's interesting to see how little we knew then about how things would turn out.
In retrospect, it's interesting to see how much even giants such as Intel have been struggling to get a handle on this revolution. Chapters devoted to Intel's mobile Internet devices and ultra-mobile PCs show what Edsels these efforts really were in the days before the iPhone and the iPad.
Ahmad talks about all the people behind the products, including Steve Jobs at Apple, Andy Rubin at Google, and Jeff Hawkins at Palm. My one quibble with this history is that it does not include in-depth interviews with these people or the folks around them. Don't expect anything on the order of Walter Isaacson's fine biography of Jobs. However, Ahmad does a good job sprinkling his book with insider tidbits picked up from news stories of the day.
The smartphone book goes back to the early mobile days every few chapters. It traces the fortunes of one company, product, or person after another. This approach was a little frustrating to me, because I tend to be very linear. I want the whole story from beginning to end in a couple of large chunks.
There is still plenty of room out there for someone to tell the insider story of the people behind the mobile revolution. There's plenty of time, too, because this revolution is still happening.