IP Obesity: How the iPhone Could End Apple Prosperity

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While Browsing my favorite Nerd store(Sparkfun.com) I came across a good article on IP Obesity . I’m not sure if this term is a a creation of Nathan Seidle’s or it originated elsewhere, but It’s a good term to describe what happens when companies shift their focus from creating intellectual property to protecting it. In the Article, Nate talks about how Kodak was once way ahead of it’s time with the creation of  the Electronic Still Camera. Kodak filed a patent and spent their efforts trying to protect it. As a result, Canon was rewarded for their focus on innovation and Kodak was penalized for their focus on protecting IP. Nate then goes into the benefits of Open Source Hardware and how it encourages better innovation and quality. While I don’t agree wholly with Nate’s views I do agree that after a short time, companies “should create value that is harder to replicate”. Good Ideas will be copied, and filing suite against everyone is pointless.

Apple’s iPhone division is now bigger than all of Microsoft and for all in intends and purposes it appears as though Apple is at the top. The question is, will Apple continue Innovate and maintain their “cool” image or will they fall into obscurity and be labeled “Dull” as Microsoft has. For now it appears as though Apple is not in danger of being “uncool” any time soon, but I feel as though they may be heading down the wrong path in a few ways.

Anti Google Agenda 

Politics are now a bigger part of the iPhone than they ever used to be. The last iteration of iOS 6 seemed to be more of a political move to get rid of Google rather than increase usability. Two of the most used features of the iPhone were Google Maps and You Tube. Each of these Apps were axed in favor of Apple maps and they didn’t even attempt a new video solution. While I like some of the features of the Maps, I don’t think they were quite ready for public consumption. Both moves were clearly driven by politics. I don’t think I need to get into why politics are bad for Innovation. I read an excellent article recently on Vanity Fair  by Kurt  Eichenwald on the subject of Microsoft’s troubles with politics.

High Profile IP Lawsuits 

The Apple-Samsung lawsuits are another source of my concern. I think this lawsuit was damaging to both companies. Samsung was labeled a copycat and Apple has started to look like corporate thugs that will steam roll any threat to their IP. I have to say Samsung has done a good job at looking like the victim here though. Both companies are also appearing frivolous as they attempt to block each other’s products from being sold in the US.  This sort of litigation suggest to me that Apple has started to focus more on protecting IP. At this point, the Balance of creating and protecting IP seem to be OK, but time will tell how long that balance is maintained.  We can only hope that Apple doesn’t let new Innovation suffer in favor of protecting their once innovative products.

Less Passion 

Comparing this years Keynote to previous events where Steve Jobs was in charge, I really think Tim Cook lacks the passion for the products that Steve Jobs had. Steve Job’s passion in Apple products gave him the uncanny ability to get us all excited about Upcoming products. For now it seems as though Apple is kind of rolling on the steam of the iPhone and the iPad. Now business is good and should carry the company for a few more years. Soon However, Apple will need a completely new product. Jobs was able to create a market for the iPad where everyone had failed previously. I’m not so sure Tim Cook has this ability. I have no doubt that Tim Cook is capable of running Apple and he has already proven to be great at managing the supply chain. Steve Ballmer was also very good at what he did before taking the reigns as CEO of Microsoft. Cook seems to be emerging as a more charismatic leader, but I am still a bit worried that his path will be reminiscent of Ballmer’s.

Apple made a good move when they created the iPhone and transitioned from their focus on iPod. Now the iPhone is still a popular best seller but it is starting to lose a bit of it’s glamour. Apple will need a follow up market and they can’t afford to ride out the success of the iPad and iPhone for too much longer. Competition is getting bigger and soon the smartphone industry will be just as saturated as the PC industry today.  In the short term iPhone 6 and iOS 7 will need to bring something new to the table, and Tim Cook needs to show a bit more passion about it when they arrive.  I’m rooting for Apple and hope that they don’t fall victim to the same plagues of Kodak and Microsoft. Inevitably though, all empires fall and new ones Arise.

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