Samsung and Google copied Apple illegally, or so the civil court here in California ruled last week. But, assuming this ruling survives appeal, this is a big win for innovation and, unfortunately, innovation means change.
In this case, however, the change could be a good one for IT because the most innovative platform challenging Apple’s dominance is also the most secure and most easily managed. This is the Windows 8/RT platform on tablets and the Windows 8 Phone platform on smartphones.
The case clearly put a huge penalty on copying Apple designs, which means the in-market Android Apple clones, which already had major security issues, will now have to be crippled to avoid huge penalty fees to Apple. This is on top of the licensing fees many are already paying to Microsoft. Suddenly, the Microsoft platforms are looking far more attractive to OEMs and if this translates into user adoption (never certain), Microsoft wins and if Microsoft wins, vendors that can’t seem to spell “IT” get replaced by one that has arguably taken a couple of decades to more than spell these two critical letters.
The problem with innovation is that it means change and our complex IT environments don’t respond well to change. It isn’t just IT administrators who resist change, but users historically have had major issues with it as well, which is likely why Google and Samsung copied Apple in the first place. This market likes to buy stuff that looks and feels familiar, which is why the initial iPhone success was such a surprise. Here was something very different that people actually seemed to like.
Instead of taking design inspiration from the LG Prada (a little-known, high-design product) and taking it mainstream, Apple could have done what Samsung and Google did and copied the well-recognized BlackBerry. But it rightly surmised that as much as IT liked the BlackBerry, they weren’t making buying decisions, so Apple had to find something that the users would love and thus the iPhone was born.
Microsoft tried to innovate around Apple with the Windows Phone 7 offering, but buyers didn’t want that change and instead flocked to iPhone knockoffs if they weren’t buying iPhones. In short, change is a bitch and both users and IT folks often fight to avoid it.
The Google model of creating a cheap knockoff of the iOS is now officially too expensive. There is some irony in the fact that the “free” OS from Google cost Samsung over $1B so far and we are likely far from done with the charges and penalties. While initially Google and its licensees will be forced to cripple the operating system, it wouldn’t surprise me to see free apps pop up to cripple it over the short term. But I doubt either Apple or the various courts will find that creative workaround funny for long and eventually Google will have to substantially change its platform so that it diverges more strongly from iOS.
Users probably aren’t going to be happy with a lot of these changes, particularly if, as expected, the first set designed to eliminate conflicting features effectively cripples the Android phones coming to market in 30 days. This painful change opens the door for other vendors like RIM and Microsoft.
The reason Microsoft benefits first is it will launch its new platform on top of the first set of Nokia phones designed to receive it (the last set was in design when Nokia switched to Microsoft’s OS). RIM’s new platform is delayed (it has had issues) and buyers know it and large numbers are likely to wait for the new devices.
But clearly with the Android vendors put off their stride, Microsoft enters this market with its new and very different products at a time when folks won’t have the typical choice of iPhone/iPhone clones and everything else.
Clearly Apple is the big beneficiary here, but this tide should raise alternative products as well.
The Apple ruling should do a lot to stop the practice of just copying someone in order to take advantage of our (both IT and users) dislike of change. The result will likely force change on us more quickly but we actually do need it. This all also comes at a time when we are thinking about virtualizing most everything anyway and likely will accelerate the moves toward desktop virtualization to get around all of the platform differences.
In the end, the biggest beneficiary may in fact be desktop virtualization because this makes it more the users' problem (we can maintain our consistency and security using the VDI tools), suggesting the biggest winners may be the VDI vendors showcasing at VMworld this week.
So, in the end, even with litigation Apple is driving change. Figuring out how to deal with it is now our job.