Apple is the new leader in technical stagnation
The golden years of Apple's outright dominance in technical innovation is fading, and quickly at that. The iPhone 5 just launched with a deservedly ho-hum and lackluster reception, with many people asking the obvious question: that's it? For a company riding the high waves of Wall Street for more than a few years now, with earnings going through the roof quarter upon quarter, is this the best that a larger-than-life tech giant can bring us?
Maybe the naysayers are right in that Apple is the leftover shell of a monolith once passed (post-Jobs.) Perhaps that internal drive to bring out the best in technology they release is starting to fizzle. I'd go as far as to argue that Apple never really has been as continually innovative as many people may believe. While Apple does have an easy ability in commanding the lead for sectors it enters, this doesn't necessarily mean the company if filled with technical Einsteins as so many supporters clamor to believe.
Apple the Evolutionary
Take Apple's staple desktop OS, Mac OS X, for example. While the company goes to great lengths in order to detail feature after feature improved by each release, take a look at the long-term picture of what OS X represents over a 10-year span. At each point in time, you can see where Microsoft's Windows OS stood relative to OS X.
Do you see the trend? Microsoft has put forth larger monumental changes to the Windows platform release-upon-release than Apple can lay claim to for the near entire 10-year span of the OS X history. Niche features and apps aside, OS X is the same behemoth on the outset that we first saw back in 2001. It doesn't take a genius to connect the dots and re-evaluate whether Apple's design improvements are as far reaching and endearing as marketing claims to be.
This doesn't only ring true in the GUI everyone uses. Take, for example, the aspect of internal OS security. We can all agree that Microsoft has made leaps and bounds improvements in security; in the 10 years since XP, Windows 7 stands tall as the Fort Knox of client OS examples. So much so that many experts outright claim that Windows is pound for pound more secure than OS X and even the impenetrable iPhone is starting to gain the attention of malware writers. After years of pounding the "Macs don't get viruses" drum, Apple quietly admits that Macs aren't as bulletproof as once believed.
Playing catch up in Smartphone Features Every Direction You Look
The innovation disparity doesn't just reside on the desktop side. With the recent release of the iPhone 5, Apple's smartphone
revolution evolution grinds to a path of limited improvement, if even dare I say it -- mere catch up. Just as with the desktop OS, have a look at the two major players in the smartphone arena right now, Apple and Samsung. Pitting three generations of the same model line of phone side by side, which competitor represents larger generational improvements in a like-for-like comparison?
Not only have Samsung's phones undergone appropriate physical changes to adapt with the smartphone needs of users at large, but the Android software powering them has also seen similar shifts, not just mere upgrades. But in face of all the competition from Android (and soon to be Blackberry 10 as well) to win the hearts and minds of today's hungry users, Apple turned on the glitz a few days back to churn out a mediocre iPhone 5. I'm not the only one scratching my head as to some of the decisions the company made with this new phone.
Near Field Communication? Nowhere to be found. Better battery life? Marginal at best. A true revolution in UI design? Apple was overly-giddy in describing how they've -- gasp -- added a 5th row of icons to iOS 6. And screen resolution? The Galaxy S3, Lumia 920, and even upcoming Blackberry 10 devices all have Apple beat already. If the iPhone 5 feature set is an example of the golden company it represents in users' eyes, then I guess we can begin discussions about a possible OS Hall of Fame induction for Windows Vista.
But I guess iPhone users really don't care about the specifics that much; they've been more than comfortable on 2007-era 3G speeds for some time now, so the new iPhone 5 must be a godsend in some regards. I pretty much run my computer repair company FireLogic on a Blackberry Torch 2 with HSPA+ so 3G is a fairly distant memory for me.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention Apple's ingenious (read: sarcasm) new connector design, which debuts on the iPhone 5. Instead of allaying to industry standards and using an affordable Micro USB connector like everyone else, Apple implemented a new proprietary connection that will require a wonderful $29 adapter. The only win from this idiotic proposal is for Apple, which will rake in the hundreds of thousands of dollars from senseless adapter purchases. Yet the Apple feens will continue to support the march toward proprietary-dom while shunning the likes of Microsoft and Android.
Apple's Best Trait? Corporate and Legal War of Attrition
If Apple isn't the bastion of technical improvement, then what does it have going for it? A great corporate engine that allows the company to smash competition from mere size, if anything else. A fresh example of this corporate grind attitude just surfaced this week, with news reports that Apple is suing a Polish online grocer for far-fetched allegations that logos and website addresses are too close to that of the tech giant's. This is just a small blip on Apple's ever-growing war map. Some victims happen to be innocent bystanders, as in this latest Polish grocer suit, but some are clearly intended targets in Steve Jobs' not-so-secret thermonuclear war on Android.
Putting aside the sole fact that Apple defeated Samsung in the courtroom via questionable jury deliberations, the bigger issue here is whether Apple was truly justified in its positions against Samsung. It's already well known that the jury itself wasn't as much interested in technical details as they were in sending a message to Samsung. But on the larger picture, if Samsung really did copy Apple's intellectual design, where does that leave Apple in its own actions over the better part of its public history?
Tech entrepreneur and angel investor Mark Cuban took to Twitter shortly after the ruling was announced and quipped a few interesting things. "If the IBM PC was created in this patent environment there would be no Apple. They would have sued them out of existence". Probably the best message was, "Dear Apple, Xerox PARC called, they want their interface back". Funnies aside, Cuban is entirely right on the money. Apple is clearly set on auto-pilot for all out legal destruction of the competition.
Let Apple have its day. While the company seems to have taken the home court advantage and ran with it, I doubt future legal battles will be as clear cut as this one. And I really do hope that the courts push back on Apple's outright war against competition. For as much heat as Microsoft has received over the last decade for its dominance with Windows, I think Apple should be taken to town on the same laurels for its doings in the smartphone arena.
Only time will tell, I guess. Perhaps 50 years from now, as Malcolm Gladwell predicts, Steve Jobs will be almost completely forgotten in most respects and Apple will clutch the likes of a WebOS-esque standing in the smartphone world. For now, let competition ring so the technical leaps of Apple's marketplace foes can start becoming as evident as they should be. And even more importantly, it's time that the courts show Apple that legal teams alone can't drown out the competition.
Derrick Wlodarz is an IT professional who owns Park Ridge, IL (USA) based computer repair company FireLogic. He has over 7+ years of experience in the private and public technology sectors, holds numerous credentials from CompTIA and Microsoft, and is one of a handful of Google Apps Certified Trainers & Deployment Specialists in the States. He is an active member of CompTIA's Subject Matter Expert Technical Advisory Council that shapes the future of CompTIA examinations across the globe. You can reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.