Is Apple Trading Innovation for Litigation?
Amid Apple winning an injunction against Samsung Galaxy S2 in US some pundits have predictably upped the ante in their somewhat rightful chastising of Apple, and we are hearing more and more about Apple changing from a company that innovated their way to success into a company that is just trying to crush competition through litigation.
I think this kind of content has little value beyond the predictably high number of page views it can generate (not that this realization just dawned on me). Media likes to focus on the negatives about that which is in the limelight, as apparently people in general like to bring down something that seems too successful for its own right. In other words, it is in to badmouth Apple, and thus we’ve come to the point of Apple being called the new “Microsoft”, in reference to Microsoft’s behavior in the 90s and better part of 2000s.
While I might risk being seen as a fanboy again I’m actually the least inclined to defend Apple at this point. Besides, I’ve never actually supported Apple’s patent litigation, and have publicly criticized it as well. However, the fact is that there is still too little evidence to suggest that Apple truly changed into a company that substitutes innovation for litigation. It is simply too early to tell, at best.
With the kind of money they have Apple can simply do both. The money they waste on litigation doesn’t have to take away from the money they invest into innovation. It simply doesn’t make sense to think that just because Apple litigates more than they did before they aren’t or won’t innovate.
Incrementalism Between Big Leaps
Some might point to incrementalism of recent iOS, iPhone, and iPad updates as evidence of a lack of innovation, but how is this new for Apple? Apple puts out innovative or industry changing products in relatively big leaps, but in between those leaps they have always been incremental. Look at Mac OS X. It came out it 2001, and has seen only more or less incremental upgrades ever since. Look at the MacBook Pro line; for years it’s only seen “refreshes”. Just because Apple is right now in an incremental phase with their mobile stack doesn’t mean they can’t make any more big leaps.
Besides, it’s not like they’ve been completely incremental even in recent past. The 2011 MacBook Air pretty much upended the PC notebook industry and sparked the momentum behind the ultrabook, and now we have the new Retina MacBook Pro which is a yet another hard-to-beat product, even if it is still only a high end product with a stigma over its inability to customize and repair (for some).
Even if the iPhone might be falling slightly behind in some respects, mainly feature-by-feature comparison, it is not far behind, and this in no way means they can’t come up with something significant sooner or later. In some respects it’s been leading the way just months ago, such as Siri. Google just now, with Jelly Bean, managed to catch up and even possibly exceed its capabilities.
Apple Has Its Own Universe
Another thing to factor in when analyzing Apple’s ability to compete with its innovation and products rather than just litigation is the fact that Apple still lives in its own special universe, their own paradigm. It should be known to all ardent observers by now that Apple doesn’t exactly like comparing themselves to anyone. They do their own thing, and if it happens that occasionaly some people don’t like it then so be it. Feature by feature comparisons, just like earlier comparisons in computer specifications between the Mac and comparably priced PCs, aren’t necessarily the metrics Apple cares about. There are factors that many people somehow gloss over, like the overall consistency of the user experience for one example, and the design of the products.
Others Litigate Too
Finally, while patents litigation is bad, and I’d readily even say “evil”, Apple is hardly the only company involved in it. They might just be among the most aggressive ones right now, but even what they did so far hardly compares to the history of Microsoft’s shameless litigation of the past.
It could also be worth considering that they, or the top brass at least (perhaps), actually believe they’re being morally wronged by the competition and Google’s Android, however messed up that belief might be. And they have the law on their side
The law is ultimately the primary culprit in all of this. Patent reform is long overdue, and if you ask me, best way to “reform” it would be to abolish it.
Bottom line: Apple can play both the evil game of litigation and the good game of innovation and great product development. There’s little basis to suggest that they’ve substituted one for the other.