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Mobile Competition Part 2: Great Artists Steal

Posted: , by Michael H.

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"Good artists copy, great artists steal."

As we mentioned before, quality becomes ubiquitous by the nature of competition. Because of this, one of the most pointless arguments we see going around the forums and comments is that "company X stole this idea from company Y". The absurdly broken patent system in America has been perverted and lost its way, and the path it has taken has fundamentally warped our view of what an idea is. The original point of the patent system was to force inventors to make their methods public, because ultimately, information wants to be free. The idea was that with processes in the public record it would be easier for other inventors to build upon that design and fuel more innovation. You may notice that while our current patent system tends to stifle innovation by asserting that ideas are not free, but are the property of whomever filed a piece of paper with that idea on it. On the other hand, the open-source system has continued in the spirit by which the patent system was first conceived: information is free, and innovation is driven by sharing. 

Mobile Competition Part 2: Great Artists Steal
It is in this spirit that we would like to call upon the wisdom of Pablo Picasso when he said, "Good artists copy, great artists steal." This idea fits our purposes, because a great idea doesn't belong to the company that first put it to market. All great ideas have been built upon ideas that came before, and in the field of technology, when you trace that line back far enough, you often hit science fiction. The point is that a "good artist" would be a company like Samsung, which has blatantly copied Apple design and found a good amount of success in that. But, Samsung also has moments as a "great artist" in "stealing" Apple's ideals of making mobile devices constantly thinner and lighter. This isn't really "stealing" though, rather it is recognizing that someone else has understood a basic truth, and possibly come up with an elegant solution to a problem. Apple understood, just as Motorola had before it, that mobile devices need to be as thin and light as possible. The great artists, Apple, Google, and Microsoft, all "steal" from each other and anyone else around, because they understand that it doesn't matter who comes up with a great idea, just that all great ideas should be shared, because they are almost always rooted in basic truths. 

It will often feel as though Apple is "stealing" more features from Google, but really that is just an illusion of the two company's development method, which we touched on in Part 1. Google is in love with the public beta. Every service and product it releases begins life as a beta, because Google wants to have the users to be a part of the building process. With this in mind, Google releases features and products much faster, but also less fully developed. Apple uses the successes and failures of other companies to inform its choices, and makes sure that when it launches a new product, it is full featured, matured and ready for prime time. This means that Apple spends more time working on a product or feature and often releases later, making it seem as though it took the idea from Google. The difference is just that Google likes to improve its products with the help of consumers, and Apple wants to cultivate an auteur air about its products as if they all came straight from Steve Jobs himself. Neither approach is better than the other as consumers often fall into the two camps of early adopters and those who prefer matured products, but they do lead to this common misconception. 

Mobile Competition Part 2: Great Artists Steal
There are those who will claim that Apple stole many of the new features of iOS 5 from Android, including the voice commands, notification center, and wireless syncing and OTA updates. But, Apple didn't really steal the ideas, Google simply reached some basic truths faster, namely: touch typing is not a metaphor that translates well to small touchscreens so better input methods are needed; notifications should not be intrusive; and wires must be abolished. These are not ideas that Google invented, just ideas that Google implemented in a better way than Apple. And, what was Apple to do?  Offer a lesser experience to customers just because another company did it better first? No, the point of competition is for everyone to push each other forward. 

Apple kickstarted the modern smartphone boom and set the original trends. Google took stock of Apple's best ideas and used them to improve Android. Steve Jobs accused Google of stealing the "look and feel" of the iPhone (regardless of whether Apple may have stolen that look and feel from Samsung or Palm or some other company). Google then improved upon the iPhone features with its own innovations. Now, we're swinging back the other way where both Android and WP7 have far better notification systems. So, Apple is taking that and other better ideas, incorporating them to make its product better, and likely improving upon those ideas as well as some of the shortfalls of Android and WP7. We certainly wouldn't be surprised if iOS 6 includes some variation on widgets/Live Tiles that includes some ideas Google and Microsoft wish they'd thought of, because that's the circle of competition. We really hope that when that happens, Google and Microsoft take those ideas and make their products better. This is a virtuous cycle that only serves to make all of the products available for consumers better - the best ideas spread and cause the whole system to evolve. It doesn't matter who comes up with an idea first as long as the best ideas become the standard, because ideas strive to be free and to be shared. The greatest artists may "steal" from one another, but when everyone benefits from it seems far better to say that great artists "share" with one another and build upon each other's works. The evolution image above shows a direct line ending with Android, but in reality the iPhone and Android will be trading that top spot back and forth until a competitor comes along and evolves past both. 


Just as each hardware manufacturer in the Android ecosystem pushes the others to make better handsets, so too do Android handsets and other devices push Apple to make better iPhones, and Apple pushes Android manufacturers, Google, Microsoft and others to make better products. Each company has its own business plan which guides decisions and pathways. Each company is striving for a different result, or attempting to reach those goals through different means, making it impossible to say whether one is better than another. At this moment, both Apple and Google are winning, because each is succeeding in the goals they have set: Apple is making huge profits, and Google's Android is running away with market share. Everyone is taking ideas from each other, because that's what needs to happen with the best ideas. The best ideas become ubiquitous because competition dictates its necessity in order to continue the evolution of technology. Once the best ideas spread and become standards, the market has no choice but to innovate; and, regardless of a broken patent system, innovation is still occurring on all sides. All sides are making great products, striving for separate goals, and competing in an unwinnable game. It's a game that can't have a winner, because it's a game with no end, and you can only have a winner when you've finished the game. Quality begets quality, great ideas become ubiquitous, and the entire ecosystem evolves. When that happens, it can be nothing but a good thing for consumers.

Addendum: There have also been many of you who have commented to the point that Apple tends to use unfair practices. The general complaints are that Apple acts like a bully in the market, taking ideas from others, but complaining and being overly-litigious when it feels that others have taken its ideas, and also that Apple ignores its customer's demands and routinely delays or doesn't bring certain features like copy/paste, or widgets. While these may not seem like the best business practices as far as keeping customer loyalty, they are in no way illegal, and ultimately are the choice of Apple to make. If Apple believes it can bring a device to market that doesn't have feature parity with competing devices, but still sell as well as it projects, that is Apple's decision. As much as we may want it to be different, Apple has no real responsibility to its customers, only to its shareholders. So, if we keep buying, Apple will keep doing the same things. As far as the lawsuits, we aren't sure why Apple would do that. Perhaps, it's a matter of making more noise about someone potentially stealing from Apple, so Apple devices continue to look unique. Or, it may be a tactic to slow down the market in order to control the pace of innovation, which would be beneficial to Apple because of its strict yearly update cycle. Whatever the reasons, they are Apple's choice to make and up to consumers to determine if Apple should be rewarded for them. As it stands, many people don't seem to care about Apple's business practices as long as it keeps putting out great devices. 

image via MacRumors 

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posted on 30 Sep 2011, 11:06 6

1. gallitoking (Posts: 4721; Member since: 17 May 2011)

great follow up story... great job Michael...

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 22:03 1

59. Steal (unregistered)

Must watch :



posted on 01 Oct 2011, 00:30 1

61. biophone (Posts: 1994; Member since: 15 Jun 2011)

I already posted this buddy.

posted on 03 Oct 2011, 22:40

125. Steal (unregistered)

It was a steal!

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 11:07 2

2. Bob (unregistered)

Well all these 'Phone operating system wars' will settle down one day and finally there will be only one 'market leader'. Almost 6.5 billion people in the world, these 'wars' are concerned to a fraction of people. Windows phone could be the winner.

posted on 01 Oct 2011, 09:50 2

74. ayephoner (Posts: 850; Member since: 09 Jun 2009)

like there is only one car manufacturer?

like there is only one computer OS?

what on earth makes you say this?

posted on 01 Oct 2011, 12:19

79. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2707; Member since: 26 May 2011)

Admittedly, there may be more than one computer OS, but it's not like it's much of a competition there. Windows is still at 86% of the market.

Still, I doubt there will be one market leader mobile OS any time soon. And, even if there is, it's not like iOS or Android fans would be quiet. I mean we all see how quiet OSX advocates are, and that's barely 6% of the market.

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 11:07 6

3. taco50 (banned) (Posts: 5506; Member since: 08 Oct 2009)

Good article, but I disagree on one point. I think ip should be protected because in the tech business that's how you make money. Ideas.

That's why Apple has been so successful.

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 11:12

5. Muhannad (Posts: 455; Member since: 20 Sep 2011)

What is IP?

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 11:17

7. taco50 (banned) (Posts: 5506; Member since: 08 Oct 2009)

Intellectual property

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 11:29

9. Mark (unregistered)

intellectual property

posted on 03 Oct 2011, 15:01

115. 530gemini (Posts: 2198; Member since: 09 Sep 2010)

International Police, hahahahaha

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 11:37

11. Commentator (Posts: 3722; Member since: 16 Aug 2011)

That's how you make money in any business. I agree that Samsung should be sued over the similarities of the TouchWiz UI, which is a blatant copy, but I'm not convinced that their Galaxy S/Tab form-factors are similar enough to iPhones and iPads to warrant legal action. TouchWiz is useless (IMO) anyways, so Samsung should just take it off their phones.

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 11:38 5

12. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2707; Member since: 26 May 2011)

If that were true, how would any open-source products like Firefox, Linux, Android, etc. ever make money?

In tech, as in all business, you make money on execution. You make money on marketing IP correctly, and that's why Apple has been so successful. Apple knows how to build beautiful and accessible devices, and market them so that the general public understands why they should buy it.

HP and Palm have proven that having a good, protected IP doesn't mean anything if it isn't executed right.

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 12:12 1

18. taco50 (banned) (Posts: 5506; Member since: 08 Oct 2009)

They'd have to come up with original ways to implement functionality.

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 13:11 9

22. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2707; Member since: 26 May 2011)

There is no such thing as "original ways". That's the point, everything is built upon what came before it. Because of that, there's no real intellectual "property". You can't own an idea, because that idea has roots in everything you've learned from others. Nothing is original, but many things are innovative.

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 15:14

37. Droid_X_Doug (Posts: 5993; Member since: 22 Dec 2010)

Whether original or innovative, the concept behind patent law is that the 'inventor' gets a period of exclusivity to encourage them to expend the effort and $ to invent. The exclusivity is something that investors will invest in if they think they can make a return on their investment.

I wonder if Apple would have gotten into the phone business if they didn't think they had an angle from a patent perspective.

posted on 03 Oct 2011, 13:01

112. waveydavey (unregistered)

To piggy back, part of the idea of patents is to also encourage inventors to share new technologies and still reap rewards through licensing. I guess this might still be what you call shared exclusivity: "pay me, and you can join the club too".

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 16:01 2

45. wassup (Posts: 565; Member since: 23 Jun 2011)

oohh taco got hosed :)

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 20:02 2

55. AppleFUD (unregistered)

well put. . . taco50 can't grasp that idea. that all of apple's "IP" is nothing more than tweaks to existing tech. . . maybe he's just one of those simpletons that is easily hypnotized by marketing and whatnot. . . and just believes it all. You know, like the old lady that thinks a soap opera is real.

posted on 02 Oct 2011, 10:42

93. taz89 (Posts: 2014; Member since: 03 May 2011)

theres no point trying to explain...in tacos eyes everything apple has ever done is nothing but original even if the facts state the so called original idea existed before apple came up with it...your article explained everything perfectly...

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 17:31

51. biophone (Posts: 1994; Member since: 15 Jun 2011)

Mike great article you changed my opinion on IP.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CW0DUg63lqU
Steve jobs would be proud of you mike. However I don't like blatant copies they should add your own innovations especially in design but for features I am ok with "stealing."

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 11:41 2

14. where IP is concerned (unregistered)

I think IP should be recognised more, but not so much as overly-protected patents to be used to sue and keep ideas to oneself.. I agree with what Michael H has brought up in the article in that ideas are meant to be shared and made ubiquitous, so that as new ideas become standard, everyone benefits, and the system and manufacturers are forced to continue to innovate.. by protecting IP with so many patents, the system is effectively restricting innovation, because new ideas are generally built upon existing technology and and implemented in a way that's appealing to everyone.. just like how the iPhone revolutionised the touchscreen smartphone era, it wasn't that the tech did not exist, or Apple invented the tech behind it, they simply got the headstart and ideas to implement it in the best possible way then..

likewise, it only stands that consumers are allowed to enjoy the innovations and ideas that are shared and spread around into our everyday lives.. if you think about it, how much would it suck if everyone had to buy a Ford Model T because every other car company back in the days were prevented from building a car that was as good, or better, based on the tech that was in the original Ford.. if the patent war existed back then, effectively, no other car companies would be allowed to build a car with 4 wheels, using a combustion engine, gear systems to vary speeds and other innovations back then..

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 11:56

16. vu2ikl (Posts: 11; Member since: 22 Sep 2011)

well.. that's because as Michael said. all the "innovative" ideas have roots in some old ideas. so that is not actually a complete new idea as such.

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 13:33

27. remixfa (Posts: 14605; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)

And as soon as apple has a patent for icon colors and a menu grid, I will agree with you.

Apple is the king of stealing, which is why they have to share their gargantuan profits with everyone else. They keep losing patent infringement lawsuits.

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 17:34

52. biophone (Posts: 1994; Member since: 15 Jun 2011)

Steve would agree with you

posted on 03 Oct 2011, 15:09

116. 530gemini (Posts: 2198; Member since: 09 Sep 2010)

That line has been taken out of context by people with simple minds. First of all, that was Picasso's line, not Steve's. 2ndly, what Steve meant by what he said, is to LEGALLY own ideas from people that they hire, not literally from anyone. But of course, readers with low IQ will take what he said literally. Oh well.

Use common sense. If all that Apple have are stolen IP's, they would've been shut down a long time ago.

posted on 03 Oct 2011, 19:18

119. s (unregistered)

In that case apple should be sued for making any 4' or bigger phone screens since they sued samsun for coping the shape square from their products

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 11:11

4. Muhannad (Posts: 455; Member since: 20 Sep 2011)

Basically, technology is never-ending.

posted on 30 Sep 2011, 11:16

6. surya_020 (unregistered)

Very good article...nice work phonearena....appreciated..finally the winners will be consumers who will get better products for what they are paying :)....

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