Apple is right to go after computer makers that try to blatantly copy the look and feel of Macs, Matthew Rothenberg, managing editor of Ziff Davis Internet, says in an opinion column.
The editor has “reservations about Apple’s eagerness to go after small fish apparently motivated by genuine enthusiasm for its brand,” such as those who develop themes. However, he has few qualms about Apple’s handling of “mock Macs” such as last week’s settlement of the suit against Future Power, whose E-Power computer looked amazingly like an iMac. While most Mac users feel that Apple was justified in its suit, others (usually in the Wintel camp) say it’s simply another example of Apple putting style before substance, Rothenberg says. But he thinks that such critics are underestimating the importance of Apple’s design innovations and confusing “Apple the style guru with Apple the technology company.”
“To my mind, Apple has driven the development of personal computing in two distinct, albeit interrelated, ways: As a technology company, Apple has pushed a computing experience that is self-contained and accessible to even the most casual user,” he says. “That effort has come at a stiff price over the quarter century since Apple was founded. The company’s emphasis on user friendliness and vertical integration has come at the expense of interoperability with other platforms, and it has frequently put Apple at a disadvantage when it comes to competing on the basis of cost.”
Despite this, the Mac makers has pushed personal computing as a “cultural force” from its beginnings, Rothenberg adds. Under Apple’s Jobs-led resurgence in the mid-’90s, the company pushed that cultural envelope by bringing the language of fashion to the world of hardware design.
“When Apple seeks legal protection of the ‘trade dress’ that distinguishes the look of its computers from the rest of the pack, the company isn’t covering up for a lack of technological savvy,” Rothenberg writes. “Instead, it’s defending its unarguable position as the leading innovator in the physical appearance of personal computing.”
Tech veterans have every right to dismiss the importance of Apple’s design developments as tangential to the performance of the systems they contain, but that’s not the point, he says.
“Apple had the gumption to focus on consumer issues that other box makers didn’t consider; it also has the right to seek the same sorts of legal protections that design innovators beyond the PC market take for granted,” Rothenberg concludes.