Apple vs. Samsung: innovation vs. clones

There has been a lot of speculation as to how a jury could have come up with such a one-sided verdict in as complicated and long a case as Apple vs. Samsung. I doubt anyone directly involved in the case would have predicted an outcome that looked remotely like this. But, I will leave speculation on that to others; instead I'd like to look at whether the verdict is good for us, and I think it is.

In the days since the verdict Samsung has been claiming that Apple is trying to limit "customer choice." This accusation is disingenuous at best. Samsung was offering a choice of vendor not a choice of product. (See a detailed review of just what Samsung was doing.) Apple spent a number of years coming up with a way to imagine what a smartphone could be, then sprang it on the world with more hype than logic (with most of the hype coming from the press). Almost magically within a few months Samsung and other vendors started offering their own iPhone-like devices, most of which were indistinguishable in form and function from more than a few inches away.

There was a real difference between what comprised the pre-iPhone market and what Apple introduced. The iPhone, even though many of its parts had been seen before, put things together in a way that no one else had and changed what the average consumers thought of when they thought of a portable Internet experience.

Samsung was part of the pre-iPhone ecosystem that suddenly looked clunky, clumsy and antiquated. Clearly, the company had to respond, but it apparently was not up to the task of thinking on its own to produce a Samsung imagining of the mobile Internet. So Samsung basically decided to clone the iPhone.

Samsung was not alone. Encouraged by Google's introduction of Android, many vendors were soon making iPhone clones. As an aside, the Wikipedia definition of android is "a robot or synthetic organism designed to look and act like a human." Thus Google's choice of name is appropriate - Google's Android is a synthetic device designed to look and act like an iPhone.

I disagree with those who say that the verdict will mean less customer choice - at least less meaningful choice. Clearly, if upheld, the verdict will mean fewer iPhone clones and thus less pressure on Apple to keep the iPhone price down. It may take a while, but I think that the result will be a marketplace where customers have choices between products that have different concepts of the mobile Internet. That will be good for the customer. It will also ensure that Apple cannot rest on past products - the company will have to continue to evolve its products in order to keep up. The only way that the doomsayers could be correct is if no one, other than Apple, is capable of thinking and innovating. I would rather not assume that Apple has hired every smart person in the business.

This case is far from over -- both sides have many more patents and lawyers to throw at each other -- but so far the result has been a plus for us.

Disclaimer: I know of no Harvard horse in this race and have not seen any university comment on the verdict, so the above is my own (positive) view.

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