Fear & Envy Drive iPad Competitors

This is a crucial time during which Apple’s competitors are seeking to carve out the legal territory so they can seize a piece of Apple’s iPad action. The future of personal computing is at stake, and Apple is determined to learn from the lessons of the past.

If there were any questions about the importance of the Apple iPad in the future of, dare I use the term, personal computing, they’ve long since been put to rest. Apple figured out what the PC industry refused to admit because they were mired in Windows. Namely, no mere mortal needs 40 millions lines of code, print drivers, DVD burning software, APIs to support every known Windows app and business network interfaces in order to send a tweet or browse the Internet.

It has been just like the early days of what we call personal computing. Everyone who could develop software was coming out of the woodwork in the 1980s, trying to carve out a niche. And then, one day, it dawned on Microsoft: the key software items were the spreadsheet (first seen as VisiCalc on the Apple II), the word processor, one of the very first apps to ever appear on PCs of the 1970s, and the business presentation software, implemented as Powerpoint. Once this triumvirate crystalized in the minds of PC users, the need for and the direction of the PC was cast for the next 25 years.

Over time, however, the classic PC and Windows became bloated. The architecture, never designed to deal with massive Internet threats, started to collapse, and ordinary customers began to grow weary of viruses and the mind-numbing prospects of updating to a major new version of Windows — something far better handled by corporate IT departments. Unfortunately, everything we saw as wrong with Windows could not be dealt with by Apple’s Mac OS X. As Steve Jobs said, the GUI wars were over, Microsoft won, time to move on to the next big thing. (But no one heeded Mr. Jobs’s statement of direction.) It would require a whole new way of life and a keen focus on just exactly what people really do with their computers. Apple found it first because no one else was looking.

head in the sand

Windows forever!

Stunned by the development of the iPad, the competition is now realizing that Apple is the new Microsoft, but there’s no room for them at the table. Apple owns the hardware, and it’s great hardware, and it isn’t licensing out iOS. The fear is that the very future of computing for the next 20 years stands before us, and no one else can play.

The only recourse is to litigate. Right here, right now, the stage is being set every day in the courts. Who owns what patents? Can necessary patents be purchased? Can critical patents be shown to be invalid? How far can competitors go in their quest to mimic Apple? There’s fear and envy that Apple is carving out the future for hundreds of millions of customers, maybe a few billion, and the competition has been left flatfooted, believing that Windows would live and dominate forever.

I suggest that the watching the coverage of these patent wars, independent of what you think about the wisdom of software patents, is critical. Apple lost a big time lawsuit against Microsoft in the 1990s, and that’s how Microsoft gained its foothold in the GUI wars. If Apple had prevailed back then, Microosft customers would still be using DOS version 21 — or something else. So Apple, this time around, is going to defend its creative work with every tool it has at its disposal. That’s only fit and proper.

Truth be told, before the iPhone, the best anyone could do was a Motorola RAZR or a Sidekick. Before the iPad, the best anyone could do was a classic, thickish notebook with a twisty top display, a gazillion ugly ports, Windows XP and a stylus. Driven by the envy of Apple’s different approach to success, everything that we see today in the tablet world is a copy of Apple’s intellectual property, as I see it.  The competitions’ TV ads tell the tale.

And lest we forget, when Apple first introduced the iMac in 1998, lookalikes sprouted up then as well. Eventually, Apple brought a stop to all that. It never ends.

I wish Apple all the best in these patent wars. Despite the fuss, despite those who dislike Apple, despite patent shenanigans, and despite those who want to stand on the shoulders of Apple’s work, the company deserves to benefit, and solely benefit, from its groundbreaking work.


Image credit: iStockphoto