The Preemptive Strike
But then there's the lawsuit as preemptive strike. Think of it as the business version of a low-yield nuclear attack. Your goal is to interrupt the sales of the target company's product, to scare away customers or to slow down development as the target diverts resources to defending itself and away from innovation. This is basically what's going on with the suits against Motorola and Google. Android scares the hell out of Microsoft and Apple, and both companies will do what they can to slow it down. Oracle, on the other hand, isn't scared of Google or Android, it just wants a piece of the action, which Google is reluctant to provide. If you look at the history of innovation at both Microsoft and Apple, you can see why they're scared. Microsoft's smartphone efforts got mired in lack of innovation years ago, and its recent attempt with Kin was at best pathetic. Windows Phone 7 is its last hope of remaining relevant in the red-hot mobile market. Unfortunately, the company that actually thought that Kin would sell doesn't necessarily have a lock on sales with its new phone. No surprise that Android scares the pants off Microsoft.Both Microsoft and Apple could fight the situation by doing something truly innovative in the mobile space, but what they're doing instead is delivering more of the same old stuff, if slightly enhanced. Then they're fighting the object of their fear through litigation. This is a lot like the reactions of Ashton-Tate and SCO when confronted by innovation. Their long-term success is likely to be similar as well. While it's unlikely that either Apple or Microsoft will be brought down by focusing on legal actions, it's entirely likely that their culture of innovation will fade away because their resources are directed elsewhere. In other words, without innovation they might not die off, but they could well become irrelevant, and that's just as bad.
Apple is a little different. The iPhone 4, antenna problems aside, is a pretty nice smartphone, but it's an evolutionary step from the iPhone 3GS. In other words, the iPhone 4 is better than its predecessor in many ways, but it's not really the level of innovation you'd expect from Apple. What's worse from Apple's view is that Android activations are ahead of iPhone activations starting earlier in 2010, and the rate of change is getting worse. Clearly Android has to be stopped.