Lawsuits do not a creative Apple make

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In the highly litigious world of mobile technology, it’s becoming hard to keep track of who’s suing who, but more and more often it seems that Apple’s name is appearing as one of the parties in the slew of legal actions that’s sweeping the industry.

Given the sheer number of lawsuits in play between the folks from Cupertino and other major industry players, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I am beginning to find much of this legal ballyhoo a little boring. You might, however, be surprised to hear that I’m also starting to root for the other guys.

Start your photocopiers

For better or worse, the products that have come out of Cupertino’s labs in the last ten years have informed the design of just about any other device in their respective categories. Objectively, it would be difficult to argue against the fact that, after the iPhone was introduced, practically every other smartphone started looking like it, or that the iPad didn’t essentially invent a whole new product category, putting a sizeable dent in the thirty-year-old PC industry. Even the MacBook—perhaps the least exciting of the company’s product lines—has changed the way we perceive laptops to such a degree that competitors seemingly can’t resist being “inspired” by its looks.

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The similarities between the original iPhone (left) and the Samsung's Galaxy S (right) are one of the matters at the heart of the litigation between the two companies.

As Apple enthusiasts, it’s hard to sit by and watch your favorite company’s products and innovations be copied by its competitors, because the investment that we make in its products is more than financial. iPhones, iPads, and Macs were built with the idea that computers should make our lives better, and they have succeeded so well that many of us have formed an emotional attachment with them and are willing to pay a not insignificant premium for them—something for which we are relentlessly mocked by both the press and our friends. (Those same friends were later seen driving away in their $50,000 sports car to spend $200 so that they could watch ten people beat the snot out of each other for two hours at a pro hockey game.)

You gotta do what you gotta do

Similarly, I also realize that Apple probably has little choice but to aggressively pursue every legal avenue to protect its products. If Tim Cook suddenly had a change of heart and decided to drop all of the company’s Android-related lawsuits, he would probably be laughed out of office so quickly that his glasses would be left floating in mid-air, Wile E. Coyote fashion.

Nor do I think that a company the size of Apple is likely to be completely distracted by lawsuits, no matter how numerous or complex. I’m sure that general counsel Bruce Sewell’s ample budget can allow for a big enough army of lawyers and experts to take on any opponent—short of a few sovereign governments—without taking food out of the mouths of Jonathan Ive and his creative team.

In other words, lawsuits or not, Apple is here to stay for a really long time, both because of its massive cash reserves and because, by and large, it still makes rock-solid products that are head-and-shoulders above the competition.

Lawsuits can’t innovate

As a user, however, I cannot help but feel that, with the possible exception of Tim Cook’s many excellent philanthropic initiatives, Apple’s name is coming up more and more often in the press for all the wrong reasons. At the cost of sounding uncaring, my loyalty to any company extends to the ability of its products to make my life better—and whatever else they may accomplish, lawsuits decidedly aren’t helping Cupertino innovate.

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The moment Apple jumps the shark will be painfully obvious. 

Of course, it’s silly to expect that any company can revolutionize its industry all the time,—a double-standard that is all too often applied to Apple by virtue of its repeated successes in doing just that—but of late it seems like Apple’s “holy war” against Android is starting to eclipse its ability to wow customers—or, at least, this customer. Though Apple might see the lawsuits as a means to forestall competitors from closing the gap between their products and Cupertino’s, it seems to me that the strategy is destined to fail, given the speed with which the quality of Android is improving.

And the funny thing is, I want those other products to improve. Apple has always done best when it was David to its competitors’ Goliaths; the role of lumbering corporate giant doesn’t suit the company’s upstart nature. Both Google and Samsung are doing an excellent job of keeping the folks from Cupertino on their toes, all of which should ultimately benefit us, the end users, by giving us better products at increasingly competitive prices.

As this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference draws near, there is a good chance that we’ll hear about the next iterations of OS X and iOS, with more news coming later in the year about new hardware we’ve been expecting—like iPhones and iPads—and potentially even product categories we haven’t seen yet. Here’s to hoping that what’s in the pipeline won’t just be thinner, or faster, or come in more colors, but will once more change the way we look at the world we live in.

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