Apple's Tim Cook Demanded Competitor Innovation: He Got it

On July 19, 2011, Apple CEO Tim Cook, during the Q3 Earnings Report, said that he loves competition, but "we want people to invent their own stuff." It appears that his wish was granted.


One of my favorite observations about technology is reaffirmed over and over again: all great things come from the inspired genius of one man. In other words, committees are seldom able to develop new ideas and products because the clutter of competing visions seldom beats the clarity of individual genius.

In the context of Apple, Scott Forstall, from what's been published about him, may have thought that he was carrying on that very same legacy of the idiosyncratic genius of Steve Jobs and, as a result, ruled iOS with an iron hand.

Meanwhile, Apple was about the business of going "thermonuclear" with a patent war against Samsung and (indirectly) Google. I will affirm that before the iPhone came out, smartphones were awful. It was perhaps a driving factor in the development of the iPhone. Below is a chart that Apple has shown depicting how Samsung phones changed after the arrival of the iPhone.

While I am totally sympathetic to Apple as the visionary for the modern touch screen smartphone and respect its rights and patents, I also will admit that it's very hard to seize and maintain control of a compelling new product category that has universal appeal. Very hard.

Apple shows how smartphones came to copy its original vision.

If that were consistently doable in American enterprise, there would only be one car company, one company making TV sets, and only one company making personal computers. So when an incredibly popular idea comes along, like the modern touch screen tablet, one can expect that there will be variations on the original theme. Everyone jumps in, lawsuits happen, but business continues.

I think something remarkable happened while Apple's Mr. Forstall was being very single minded about iOS and Apple's attorneys were suing all the competitors.

Samsung and Google attorneys, managers and very smart engineers all got together.  They were spurred by the specter of Apple's litigation and a seeming stagnation in the development of iOS. iOS went from being a great OS for a small 3.5-inch display iPhone to being used on a 9.7-inch tablet, a device many people hope can replace their PCs and Macs.

The problem was that Apple was single minded on keeping not just a single OS for both but a single UI and UX, so while, for example, a single window/single foreground app makes perfect sense on an iPhone, the metaphor is strained to the limit on a full sized iPad. This stagnation was addressed by a David Sobotta in, "Risk Averse: Will iOS Become Apple's Windows XP?" And no doubt, larger iPads are coming, and that will completely break down the metaphor for smart people who, themselves, want to step up their productivity game on tablets.

The customer thirst and competition's appreciation for larger screens and the innovation I've seen with Android 4.x is an evolving phenomenon that Apple has been slow to address. That's probably, we all think, why Tim Cook fired Scott Forstall. Mr. Cook saw that in the fast paced world of innovation and technology from the competition, Apple needed all hands on deck to counter the competitive threats.

Great minds can launch great new things on their own, but over time, when an army of smart people gang up on you, it requires a lot of teamwork, with patent attorney assistance, to maintain a high level of competition in this fast moving technology era. For example, Google is likely deliver a viable Google Glass commercial product later this year. Apple is racing to meet the challenge with its own vision. Can Samsung be far behind?

Tim Cook probably got more of "people inventing their own stuff" than he originally bargained for. As a result, nowadays, observers are expecting Apple, in response, to seriously up its game to a new level. In a frenetic society of A.D.D., blog hits for dollars. social media and instant gratification, the wait is killing us.

Tech News Debris

There was an interesting duo of articles this week on Apple's tablet market share. First, Matt Asay at ReadWrite pondered whether, as Apple's tablet market share drops, profit share must also drop. "As iPad's Market Share Falls, Must Profits Follow?" Incremental improvements to the iPad won't stem that tide. As a result, according to Mr. Asay, Apple needs to be innovative and come out the revolutionary, not evolutionary, products every few years. Even so, despite some wavering, Mr. Asay recognized Apple's business fundamentals, so the article title needs to be taken in the right context.

Later in the week, a crisper analysis was provided by a writer I admire, John Kirk. At Tech.pinions, Mr. Kirk looked more deeply at the thesis that as market share falls, profits must also fall. "Does The Rise Of Android’s Market Share Mean The End of Apple’s Profits?"

Mr. Kirk noted that "The problem with our obsession with market share is that it rests on two faulty foundations. First, it assumes that every product sold within a category is always just as valuable as another. Second, it assumes that every customer who buys a product is of equal value. These two premises are laughably wrong." What it boils down to is having the right market share that not only has desirable customers but also customers that developers appreciate and can profit from. It's a great article, and I've never seen Mr. Kirk miss the mark.

Why are ISPs invoking data caps? Is it because of network congestion? Are ISPs, like Comcast, who own content creation companies, trying to block competition? Or are they seizing the opportunity to make some extra money to finance their network? It may be a little bit off all these things as various organizations, each with its own economic axe to grind, are pointing fingers at each other. Here's some background on all the parties and what their arguments are: "Battle Over Data Caps Heats Up." Of course, it all started when the U.S. federal government decided that it's okay for ISPs to also own and sell major content -- in competition with other companies that depend on that national infrastructure to deliver their own content.

If you're arrested for, say, a traffic offense, can the police officer search your iPhone? It might depend on whether your iPhone is password protected. This article at ars technica starts by looking at cases in Canada, but ends by looking at the situation in the U.S. "Cops can search mobile phones—only if they’re not password-protected." It might influence whether you routinely password protect your iPhone when out for simple errands in your car.

I have been writing about smart glasses lately, and specifically, Google Glass. Joshua Topolsky got up close and personal with a pair recently and wrote up a terrific article on his experiences with the device. This is must reading. "I used Google Glass: the future, with monthly updates."

Image Credit: The Verge

Even more to the point is how smart glasses and iWatches will interact with human beings for good or evil. For example, at one time, all analog cell phones did was allow us to make a phone call. We paid for simple voice connectivity. Today, a modern smart phone is a target on the Internet for criminals, and our personal behavior is monitored by both the manufacturer and the carrier. Is it likely that smart glasses and wearable devices will turn the tide? Or will they continue down the path of doing us more harm than good? Brian Hall looks at these technologies in terms of advertising and intrusion: "Apple iWatch vs Google Glasses and the Next UI Battle."

Is Java doomed on the desktop? Are the security issues just too big to deal with in a modern threat environment? Does Oracle need to change its ways? Do you have Java installed on your Mac, and, if so, why? This and more is discussed in "After so many hacks, why won't Java just go away?"