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Mac Planet: Apple and innovation

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Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

OK, so the accepted wisdom seems to be that yes, Apple is very successful by almost any count imaginable: profits are outrageous considering there's supposed to be a recession. It certainly hasn't been easy for many, if not most, of Apple's competitors. In any fields. Regardless, Android, Samsung and other competitive agents are nibbling away at Apple's reputation, at the very least - or at Apple's very foundations, should you side with the extremists.

Apple doesn't take any of this as lightly as a refusal to comment or get drawn into public slanging might indicate. There wouldn't be the court battles currently making lawyers richer in several territories if Apple wasn't bothered. These battles seesaw: one territory finds for Samsung, like in England, where Judge Christopher Floyd ruled that Apple's products do not infringe Samsung patents covering the ability to send and receive information over a 3G data network. Floyd also found the disputed uses 'existed in prior art' - in other words, Samsung's purported patents were invalid to start with.

Apple also won recently against Samsung in Japan, where a Japanese court similarly ruled in favour of Apple (in a suit filed by Samsung) alleging Apple had misused 3G wireless patents in several versions of the iPhone.

But another changed the penalty to ameliorate Samsung's travails: in the US, Judge Lucy Koh ameliorated the amount Samsung had been ruled (last August) to pay Apple by a whopping $450 million. That's almost 40 per cent. A new trial must now be held (you can almost hear the lawyers cheer from here) to decide how much of the remaining amount should still be handed over.

Alliances shift and change - once-mighty Nokia, the Finnish cell phone king before smart phones, did a deal with Microsoft. They were trying to coexist each other properly into the smartphone era. Desperation makes for strange bedfellows, and Microsoft at the very least has tech prospects (and deep pockets) if not much smartphone acumen, being late to the game.

In another twist, Nokia actually took Apple's side against Samsung. Nokia filed an 'amicus brief' ('friend of the court') on behalf of Apple in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit last Monday, asking the court to permit permanent injunctions on the sale of Samsung smartphones that were found guilty of infringing Apple's patents. I guess it's a case of my enemy's enemy is my friend, however temporarily.

Whatever the somewhat hard-to-follow courtroom intrigues mean, Apple constantly seesaws with Samsung as favourite smartphone maker. In the US, Apple regained its crown recently according to ComScore data. That shows Apple currently holds 37.8 per cent market share comparing the three-month average ending January 2013 to the three-month average ending October 2012. The numbers also reflect a slight increase for Samsung, at the expense of former Apple CPU partner Motorola and the once-promising HTC.

That does not mean Apple has a commanding lead overall. The Android operating system clearly has the overall majority, but Apple's schtick is that it's not after market share, but about holding quality. iOS has risen from 34.3 per cent. Android, Google's smartphone operating system, may have dropped slightly (1.3 per cent) but it's still at a resounding 52.3 per cent overall, meaning 9.9 per cent of this market is other operating systems. That certainly looks like a harder struggle for those little outsiders - but that's exactly where Apple used to be not that long ago. Being outside doesn't mean 'bad'.

Developers have managed to make headway on both platforms, that's for sure. Fortunes have been made. Developers for iOS, once they'd jumped through the hoops to actually get anything approved on the App Store, usually seem pretty happy with the arrangement.

This Apple Walled Garden business means fairly consistent development environments - at last compared to Android, which suffers from a plethora of changing system versions. Dr Mary Ellen Gordon looked at stats from a mobile analytics firm to show how difficult it can be for developers to offer compatibility. If a developer wanted to have an application available to 80 per cent of the smartphone market, the software would need to be compatible with 156 different device models. This fragmentation is largely driven by Android, since the mobile operating system appears on a number of devices from a variety of hardware makers, some of whom lock their handsets to prevent users from upgrading to later versions. It might be boring, but if you wonder why major banks and even police forces are currently embracing Apple, it's just this consistency (not to mention security) that's so attractive. This info can be digested on the Flurry blog.

But that's also what makes Android a rich development environment - less boundaries. For Apple app developers, although many have pushed the limits, they depend on what Apple allows to happen in the next version of iOS to expand and improve their apps. One of the big fears, as mentioned many times in both these blogs and its reader comments, along with the rest of the Apple sphere, is that Apple may be losing its innovative edge.

It seems, looking back, that every couple of months Apple launched a revolutionary product that shook the world up. Actually, that's not even remotely true. Robin Parrish, on the Apple Gazette, put together a simple graphic showing Apple's historic product pillars. Essentially, if you add it all up, the average time between major product pillars for Apple is three years and ten months.

The graphic leaves out operating system updates, new software, new features, new additions to iTunes, etc. But if it holds to this pattern, it means we're still a year away from a major new Apple product announcement... that being a totally new hardware pillar for the business, not just an iterative refinement or minor product.

That all noted, more and more rumours point to a new Mac Pro, long expected and awaited (and hardly a new 'pillar', which might be an Apple watch, if you follow the rumours). For the Pro, Apple will most likely wait for this year's World Wide Developers' Conference, but that still seems a long time away if you're chafing for a new Apple tower. WWDC is the forum at which professional products are announced, and it's always mid-year in San Francisco. I'd give John Key's right arm to go to that, at least once in my life. Actually, I'm so keen I'd give both his right arms. But this year's event has yet to be announced.

At least the Apple Television rumours have died down; I still think that's a stupid idea.

But I thought the iPhone was a stupid idea too. I'm onto my third.

- NZ Herald

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