I would end my boycott if Apple stopped bullying others

Apple is on my mind again, with the company hosting a big media event tomorrow presumably to unveil iPhone 5. I'm not seriously thinking about buying the smartphone, certainly not sight unseen. I'm super satisfied with Galaxy Nexus -- if not, I'd move to a LTE Android, perhaps HTC One X or Samsung Galaxy S III. Rather, iPhone 5 is good time to assess my personal Apple boycott, where I sold off all my fruit-logo gear in protest of patent bullying.

Until July, I was a long-time Apple user, starting with the December 1998 purchase of the original Bondi Blue iMac. Then about six months ago, Apple's persistent competition-by-litigation tactics finally made me mad. I also had grown sick of Apple media bias that borders on the insane. How crazy? Yesterday, Washington Post explained "How Apple’s iPhone 5 could singlehandedly rescue the US economy". Bad is worse -- today, extending this economic lift to US presidential elections, Nextgov (a product of the National Journal Group) asserts: "How the iPhone 5 could help re-elect Obama". These are people I really don't want to associate with. (Say doesn't the president use BlackBerry?)



Before the boycott started, I lived the Apple lifestyle: Owned Apple TV, AirPort router, iPhone 4S, MacBook Air and new iPad, depended on services like Apple Mail and iCloud and used software like Aperture and iLife. MBA and iPad were fairly recent purchases when I sold them, and on July 4th declared independence from Apple. I turned away and didn't look back.

I've got a Chromebook now, which more than meets my needs, as well as Android phone and Nexus 7 tablet. But I'm no fan of Gmail and do miss the Apple Mail client. Still, I don't miss the Apple lifestyle, nor association with the crazy zombies who worship Steve Jobs' ghost.

I'm not alone. On Google+, #boycottapple is typically one of the top trending topics. Lots of people are mad at Apple, for projecting nicety-nice image as great innovator all while bullying competitors and even partners. I'm not anti-Apple, like some other boycotters. If Apple changed its way and chose to lead by innovation rather than litigation, I would end my personal boycott. I can't say when or even if I would buy another Apple product, but the boycott would be done and my writing about it.

Verdict Unjust

For about a week following the ridiculous verdict in the Apple-Samsung patent trial, #boycottapple stayed in the top-three Google+ trends. Many people see the verdict for what it is: A travesty.

I repeat the sentiment shared a week ago: "Judge Koh should vacate the Apple-Samsung verdict". With each media interview the jury foreman gives, the more unbelievable the verdict is. He misunderstood what is prior art (a central point to the case) then convinced other jurors his flawed reasoning was right -- based on personal experience defending a patent, rather than the evidence presented at trial.

Groklaw's Pamela Jones astutely identifies the core problem with the verdict:

Did the foreman in the Apple v. Samsung case set aside knowledge from a prior patent case? Didn't the other jurors, according to his interviews and one by the only other juror to speak to the media, base their verdict exactly on outside materials, including the foreman's so-called expertise? Are they supposed to?

Now, there is a line, in that having some knowledge of a topic can actually be a good thing, but you are not supposed to make your decision based on anything but the evidence the lawyers presented, not on evidence presented by your fellow jurors.

Rule Changer

The patent system is designed to enable innovation, by granting inventors a limited monopoly in exchange for their publicly disclosing details as part of their submission. Third parties are then able to extend the invention, thus increasing innovation that in concept benefits commerce and consumers. Instead, Apple uses patents as weapons and the courts as armies against competitors. They are branded copycats stealing Apple's ideas, when instead the patented inventions are supposed to generate new ideas and products. This is especially true of software. Hey, it's not like Apple invented the microchip or jet engine.

Unfortunately, Apple wrongly applies the kind of thinking that led to its success in other ways. In December 2009, I explained: "Why Apple succeeds, and always will". Nut graph: "Apple doesn't play by the rules. It reinvents them. Apple applies what I call 'David Thinking' to its broader business, product development and marketing".

In his 2005 book, How the Weak Win Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Tactics, political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft explains how seemingly weaker opponents can prevail against stronger ones by changing the rules of engagement. He produces excellent historical data showing that, in wars, when smaller rivals use such tactic they are more likely to win, even against mightier opponents. The Biblical example of David vs. Goliath is good analogy. Rather than fight like Goliath -- and almost certainly lose by dawning armor and sword -- David relied on his own strengths. A slingshot and stone kept him out of Goliath's reach but still on the offensive.

Today, Apple is both David and Goliath, depending on market. In smartphones, Apple is a Goliath that seeks to preserve the status quo, but does so by applying David Thinking -- that is change the rules. There are established rules about the patent system -- and accompanying flaws regarding software patents, how easily they are given and how often processes granted in one overlap in another. Apple changes the rules by using the patent system as a club to beat competitors. Using is too polite. Abusing is more like it.

David Denied

Apple could choose another way: Use its enormous market dominance to drive patent reform that enables innovation for all companies, all people. But that's not the Apple way.

I retract the headline to my 2009 story. "Always will" no longer applies. Apple is less David and increasingly Goliath seeking to preserve the status quo by might and fright. Status quo thinking -- that is Goliath thinking -- is sure to eventually ruin the fruit-logo company. But how much harm will Apple do before a capable David arises and changes the rules of the game? Too much, I fear.

So while I would end my boycott, it's really a meaningless gesture. Because I don't really expect Apple to stop the bullying but actually be more Goliath and less like David.

Whose stone will fall Apple? I won't guess but observe something strange: Yesteryear's Goliath increasingly looks like tomorrow's David. Microsoft seeks to change the rules with Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and many other new products. How odd is that?

Photo Credit: BMCL/Shutterstock

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