Yes, Apple Is Trying to Kill Android
The other day I addressed Mike Elgan's Cult of Mac post. Elgan's post, which you may read here, clearly explains how Google and Apple have a symbiotic relationship.
Elgan wrote on Google+ that he viewed my post on his post as a negative critique, of which it really wasn't.
I would never introduce a column by saying it was "an elegant and compelling argument." I'm not a sarcastic, passive-aggressive type. At least, I try not to be in writing.
First, some mea culpas to Elgan and his readers--and, heck, my readers, too.
I miscommunicated on my point of aquatic analogies. I agree with Elgan's points on how Apple sells hardware, apps and content and Google sells ads with a few apps thrown in for show. It's fair to say Apple and Google ostensibly require different food sources.
I also agree that people cry Apple's iOS is "closed" if you're a hater or "integrated" if you're a fanboi. Google's Android is "fragmented" if you're a hater or "open" if you're a fanboi."
This has been happening forever, and it will continue. As noted in Battlestar Galactica: All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again."
The funny thing is, in the process of writing my off-the-cuff spiel, I learned that we disagreed on something major regarding Google and Apple.
That is the topic of whether Apple is trying to mortally wound Android with all of its suits versus Asian phone OEMs Samsung and HTC, as well as Motorola.
Elgan apparently didn't think the point merited a mention in his Cult of Mac post, which struck me as odd.
How can anyone write a post comparing the competitive state of Google and Apple, and not mention the lawsuits? That was my thinking.
So I wrote my post believing Elgan either thinks those legal imbroglios are so trivial as not to mention them or that he simply chose not to make any connection because it's meat for another post.
Suffice it to say, I see the Apple vs. Android OEM legal battles, and Apple and Google's business relationships as intertwined. Google obviously agrees, offering this post late yesterday where it whined Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and others were ganging up on it. .
Apple iOS devices sport a long list of features and functions that Apple claims as its own invention. By suing the copycats, Apple is trying to prevent those companies from commoditizing the look and feel of the iPhone and iPad. That will enable Apple to continue to differentiate its product line, and thereby charge a premium for them. The biggest possible impact of these lawsuits is that certain features and functions will be off-limits to Android device makers.
Far be it for me to say Apple doesn't have the right to protect its intellectual property. While Elgan is correct about Apple's motivations, he's only considering the Apple side and its legal rights in his rebuttal to my post. But there is another side, so let's get to it.
Android OEMs may well have copied Apple's iPhone and iPad because that's what people want to buy. I'm not saying it's right, but I am saying that Samsung and others mimicked the iPhone and iPad enough to make consumers want to buy it.
Search Engine Land's Greg Sterling put it well:
As has been widely documented, the original Android prototype devices (see image above left) looked very much like BlackBerry devices. Not long after the iPhone came out most Android handsets came to look like the iPhone. In addition, the presentation and operation of apps on Android devices largely came to mimic the iPhone.
And there has proven to be a huge market for--okay I'll say it: people who want products that work like Apple products but aren't Apple products because they eschew, dislike or even loathe the Apple brand.
The Galaxy S devices reminded Apple a lot of the iPhone. Bam! Lawsuit. Put yourself in Apple CEO Steve Jobs' shoes.
Say you spend years crafting the perfect smartphone (including starts and stops), then you launch it and it blows up the market, only to have OEMs copy a lot of the features in similar-looking handset designs a year later.
You'd want to sue, too, right? Especially when the phones are powered by software (hello, Android) from a company led by a man who not only sat on your board (hello, Eric Schmidt), but whom you considered a friend.
When Jobs said last year at a town hall that Google is trying to kill the iPhone with Android and that "we won't let them," he sent a clear signal that Apple would pull out of all of its legal stops to "win."
So what does winning get Apple?
Refer to the part I've bolded in the Elgan quote above. The features Elgan alluded to that might be prohibited are likely features that made the Apple so great. That, in fact, made Android OEMs copy them because they realized consumers wanted them.
If Apple wins its lawsuits and gets these features--I won't be getting into all of the legal "he said, she said" about specific feature here--enjoined from Android phones and tablets, consumers may well not buy them if OEMs can't reproduce them.
What incentive would an OEM have to support Android, especially with--and here is another movie we've seen--a perfectly good (and, I assume, patent-protected) mobile OS like Microsoft Windows Phone 7 on the market?
For OEMs sued into submission, Android would be persona non grata. If you don't have the OEMs, you won't have the carriers. Before you know it, Google is abandoning Android, which becomes the next Symbian.
Jobs and Apple know this, which is why they are staying the course. They recognize there is enough competition in the market that they don't need Android in the way.
It's smart, albeit ruthless, business for Apple. What I dearly wish for, is for something else Sterling suggested in his post:
There's a balance between protecting legitimate IP and suppressing new product development and competition. That's the balance policymakers and judges must strike.
Here's to hoping the judges get it right, or consumers, OEMs and Google will surely suffer.