Hey Apple - Make Innovation, Not War
Right now, it seems as if there's a lot of energy and mindshare being focused on Apple patent litigation, primarily against Samsung since Samsung is one of the few competitors that actually produces smartphones and tablets people buy on a regular basis. In the latest case heard by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, the judge basically told both parties to get real.
12/20/12 5:00 AM PT
In a perfect world, I want to believe that all these big companies that have products and solutions that I buy all just need to get along and work together to deliver the best possible consumer experience I can get. I'm tired of little fiefdoms of proprietary content, painful terms of service, and the claims that some tiny features of products warrant patents.
I'm tired about seeing all these headlines about the various Apple and Samsung court battles in various countries and jurisdictions -- they clutter up my online experience. I want innovation. I want new features. I want these guys with billion-dollar budgets to focus on the products.
I want them to focus on creating things that matter to the world. To focus on creating a new dent in the universe.
Consider this: If Apple wasn't busy throwing attorneys into courtrooms around the world with patent and trade dress litigation cases, might Apple have a bit more time and energy to spend on true innovation? Like creating the next real Apple iTV?
If Apple wasn't busy throwing Google's old Maps contract under the bus in favor of its own Maps app and service, might Apple have time to focus on a niftier user interface design for iOS? You know, something to wow us again?
In the real world, though, big companies like Apple, Samsung, Google, and Microsoft are competitors and small little hissy fits among them can have trickle effects that turn into raging torrents of profit in the future. I get that, but I don't have to like it.
Where's Your Focus, Apple?
Right now, it seems as if there's a lot of energy and mindshare being focused on Apple patent litigation, primarily against Samsung (and vice versa) since Samsung is one of the few competitors that actually produces smartphones and tablets people buy on a regular basis. In the latest case heard by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, the judge basically told both parties to get real.
Samsung doesn't get a retrial, and Apple doesn't get to ban an entire set of products because one tiny little feature infringes on an Apple patent. Besides, she doesn't believe there's any proof that anyone bought a Samsung product because of the infringements so it's not like Apple lost sales. Of course, you can't let Samsung off the hook here, either, and Koh will have to figure out if the original US$1 billion in damages will stand or be reduced.
If this were a battle over products that actually mattered, like the heavyweight title fight for champion of the world, it would be different. As it is, this is like watching a sparring match between two barely professional boxers. It's hard to tune out, and that's a problem because all these little court cases are taking their toll on my opinion and impression of Apple and Apple products. The more Apple tries to protect its brand and innovation in court, it acts like bugs spattered across a windshield -- where's the road? And where are we going again? Are we supposed to be having fun on this trip?
There's more, though. Because Apple believes that Samsung copied the look and feel of the iPad, along with various patent infringements along the way with Samsung popular smartphones, there's no way Apple can trust Samsung to be such a closely needed partner. Right now, Apple needs Samsung to manufacture its mobile processors in high volumes. If you were Apple, could you, would you trust Samsung?
As a consequence, Apple might snuggle into bed a little deeper with Intel, getting Intel to produce its mobile processors. While Apple and Intel get along now, might there be need for a divorce if Apple finds itself waiting on Intel to get the job done? Or if Intel cozies up to other competitors?
Moving on to Google Maps
At the same time all these Samsung issues are going on, Apple rushed the jalopy Maps app to market, steering customers into vacant lots and out into the baking desert sun. Why? Because Google has been getting an awful lot of Apple's customer data to work with, and Google can turn that into gold. At the same time, GPS maps apps are becoming a critical feature of smartphones and tablets.
Besides, location awareness services seem to be the next major vein of gold in the mobile industry. I personally have no interest in seeing a pop-up coupon offer for a discount on pizza as I'm walking near a pizzeria, but understand that some people do. And those who offer mobile advertising seem to think it's awfully important.
Either way, I can understand Apple's position: You cannot let a partner you don't particularly trust (remember Android and Steve Jobs' assertion that Google stole the basics of iOS to create it?) have a large influence on the happiness of your customers. Hence the new Maps app from Apple. Of course, it's more complicated than that. Why is Apple going after international companies with the bulk of its patent and trade dress litigation? Taking on Google head-on in court -- not exactly a good plan. Too visible. Too risky. And the fans? The consumer? Don't make them choose. Most of us like some things about Google and Apple at the same time.
So the new Maps app? Is that really an act of war? You bet it is. A history of partnership, a history of happy customers, and boom. See you later, we have our own Maps system now. The subtextual message: We're looking to undermine your ability to drive the mobile world, to be the key leader that sets the terms for everyone else to follow in the big new mobile advertising world.
Google isn't laying down, either. Google launched YouTube Capture, an app that lets people share their videos more or less instantly from their smartphones. By creating useful apps and social networks and new ways into social services like YouTube, Google has a sweet weapon: public demand. Offer a great app for Android, for example, and Google can easily raise a stink if Apple rejects Google's apps on iOS.
Why does Apple have to fight these battles? Why can't Apple just rise above them all and focus on product innovation? Take the high road? Because sometimes these details matter. For example, that cute little flicking bounce-back effect? While some of these scroll technology related patents have been ruled invalid because they're not novel enough to be patented, they still have value. They are still worth copying. Why? They showcase a little bit of magic.
They make your device feel almost alive. When you add up all sorts of these little innovations, the sum of their parts gives us things like the iPhone and the iPad. If manufacturers simply copy them and don't get burned for it, they'll eventually get better at copying and reverse-engineering and manufacturing copies quickly -- and then they might cause actual market confusion and damage to Apple.
With Maps and Google, it's about ensuring that Apple customers have a great experience that Apple can provide going forward, never mind the speed bumps now.
So yeah, these wars are necessary -- I get that -- I just need to do a better job of ignoring them, of not letting them clutter up my world. I need to imagine these battles as not something worthy of watching or getting invested in, but as something more akin to a bug shield on the front of a pickup designed to deflect and keep the windshield clear.