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Mr Wood's history of Symbian is an accurate, first hand documentary of the challenges faced by any organisation charged with defining a new standard technology platform and/or reconciling the conflicting needs of competing stakeholders. Unfortunately discretion and a kind heart prevents him from nailing down the most direct reasons for Symbian's failure - the politicking of executives in Symbian and Nokia more concerned about their own career progression than the greater good, including at least one with a severe alcoholism problem, and a failure of each generation of the company's management to listen to their own staff, who were telling them in 2001 and 2002 of the importance of an App store, of third party apps developers and good tooling - something management didn't wake up to until 2007 by which time it was too late. Would have benefitted also from telling the story in chronological order, not jumping around in the timeline.
This book tells the story of what really happened at Symbian from the eyes, ears and heart of the person most entuned with the passions and culture which created and destroyed the smartphone primordial soup that enabled the magical gadgets of today.
David Wood in this book presents a fact-based documentary which should be studied by technologists, business and human resources professionals who want to create, build, improve and innovate multi-billion dollar tech industries. David Wood is a pioneer not only because he developed much of the early smartphone technology and business, but because he makes sure histrory in not written only by the victor
In "Smartphones and beyond: Lessons from the remarkable rise and fall of Symbian", David takes us through the journey of Symbian, once the largest smartphone platform on the planet and perhaps the most spectacular casualty of the ensuing smartphone revolution. This was a tragic, and arguably ironic failure since Symbian had everything going for it. From the onset it was years ahead (perhaps too far ahead?) of the competition, a lead that was subsequently squandered over the years as the vision crumbled because of market shifts, confused strategy and poor execution.
As a software leader I wrestle with many of the problems tackled in this book. Software development is still a young industry, and was even more so when the majority of the events covered took place. We're in a better place today, having more examples to draw from, and much better tools, but working with pure information is still difficult for people. The human mind struggles to deal with the immense complexity of large systems of intangible goods, and this causes organizational and process problems.
This book is of interest to anyone with an interest in the history of smartphones and software engineering in general, and of course Symbian in particular. Behind delivered product, roadmaps, SDKs and websites there are people. People lead to drama of both the good and the bad kind. Ultimately, it's a book about how smart people's best intentions sometimes don't lead to the right outcome.
I'm admittedly biased since I had the good fortune to work with David for a couple of years, but David is an excellent writer and a fine researcher. He ties together hundreds of emails, blogs, articles and interviews into a compelling story about "the remarkable rise and fall of Symbian".
A fascinating book that can be read from many different perspectives:
- as a history of the early days of the smartphone industry - as a tale of the rise and fall of one of the "Great British Hopes" in the technology industry - as a cautionary tale on Joint Ventures and trying to get arch-competitors to work together in the spirit of "coopetition" - as an insider look on corporate strategy formulation and execution
David does a wonderful job of telling a story that is both complex and turbulent. Smartphones and beyond is a fascinating insider's perspective of what it takes to recognize a huge opportunity, and the passion and pain felt by those involved with trying to steer it along the bumpy road to reality.
He presents a balanced reflection on successes and failures, and identifies how we can learn from these - both in similar industries, and in society at large.
I expect the book will be especially appreciated by the many thousands of people in the software industry that experienced working with Symbian during the years it was active, however the book has valuable lessons for us all.
In Summary: An excellent and inspiring read from a respected leader.
A must read for any developer that lived through that time period. A bit heavy on the copy-pasted emails and memos, but nonetheless a great account of the only massive European success story in terms of operating systems and mobile software, and the company that invented the first generation of smartphones. The giants whose shoulders apple and google stood on.