Innovators Dilemma

So, hey, Andy Ihnatko is a smart guy. So’s Marco Arment.

I don’t know that I entirely disagree when Andy says that consumers lose due to the results of the Samsung / Apple litigation. Maybe I do disagree simply from the fact that it’s not particularly provable, and that there are so many choices in this space that Apple has chosen not to litigate against – at least not yet. Perhaps this is a slippery slope, and Apple will chase others now that it has the taste of victory? On the other hand, I believe Tim Cook when he says he doesn’t care for litigation. Whatever that’s worth.

I can see how it will slow down how many of these devices will pop out, at least of Samsung. It’s definitely more complicated, with the chilling effect this verdict will place on the market, to bring a device to market without stepping on one of Apple’s patents. However, as Marco states, there’s plenty of room for additional innovation here, and there’s only a real handful of pretty specific things that have been ruled in violation.

I don’t think that slightly fewer choices is bad for consumers. Maybe it’s bad for consumers in the sense that having $100 is worse than having $105. I doubt most consumers are looking for a vast array of choices in the market anyway – they either know they want the iPhone, they know they don’t want the iPhone, or they know they want the closest they can get to the iPhone without breaking their budget. Or – a not insignificant part of the market – they don’t want a smartphone at all.

Besides, Samsung has been ripping off lots of electronics companies’ innovations for quite some time. They had it coming, and Apple might be the only company with the right gumption (and budget) to give these guys a bloody nose.

Here’s why I think this is better for consumers.

  • Precedent.

    Companies who are making their bones thinking of copying without licensing will now need and want to invest in development on the things they now know they should avoid, and they’ll also be able to invest in finessing the things they now know that they can do. Remember: Apple didn’t win every count, and there are plenty of areas where the court determined Samsung did not violate patents or trade dress.

  • Innovation.

    If you need to use a patent, license it. License it because it’s essential to do the amazing new thing that you’re going to build on and advance the market. Copying is fine, as long as the mutations in your copy machine lead to a cooler, better, faster thing than the thing you copied – and you gave your due to the original inventor.

  • History.

    Samsung innovates in pricing models. Apple innovates in device models. You’d be hard pressed to name an innovative Samsung device that was a market success off the top of your head – but most people can name at least three innovative Apple products, because they’re the same three products Apple still sells. Mac. iPod. iPhone. Giving Apple even more money to innovate with is probably long-term better for consumers than letting Samsung keep it.

So, short-term, I think there may be some “loss” to consumers in the form of fewer available devices. I very much doubt they’ll get more expensive – there’s too much competition with other Android manufacturers, let alone Apple, for Samsung to pass the buck.

Long-term, I see a lot of upside, if for no other reason than that Apple has a proven track record and Samsung does not – at least in terms of bringing great, creative, consumer-friendly products to market.

Full disclosure: I am nobody of any interest or importance to either company. I do, however own several AppleTV’s which are each hooked up to a Samsung TV. So there’s that.

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