Blazing trails is hard work. Following them is easy. Whether you're an explorer, twin machetes in hand, hacking your way through the densest of underbrush, a developer launching a breakthrough app into a crowded app store, or a consumer electronics giant, packaging existing technologies in a way that finally makes them exciting and accessible to the mainstream, it can cost a fortune and take a tremendous amount of time and effort to bring a winning product to market.
And relatively little to copy it.
That's simply the reality of the modern market. Whether you're a boot-strapping indie dev who managed to produce a hit game only to see a giant gaming house replicate it almost exactly, or a mega corporation who releases market-changing -- even market-creating -- mobile devices only to see a string of like-designed products take over that market -- or at least make the attempt -- that's how the world works.
Samsung almost embarrassingly copied Apple products from power plugs to icons, mobile to desktop, and the massive manufacturing partners and retail competitors are now fighting it out in court solely to determine how much, if any, of that copying was legal. And Apple has copied their share of ideas and implementations as well over the years.
While that might suck for the indie dev who watches the replicated versions of their hard work hit the app store -- in some cases over and over again -- and it might suck for Apple seeing their delightful interface ideas get promiscuously given away for free, it changes nothing.
Even in the case of smash hits, innovators enjoy only a narrow lag between launch and replication to truly reap the profits of their creations. If something is good, if something works, if something is successful, it will be copied, it will be cloned, it will be knocked off. Is it really any coincidence that the company whose products copied Apple's the most have also been the most successful in their own platform space?
The only way to combat copyists and hold copying at bay is to take those windows of success and build on them, and do it in a way that's not as easy to copy.
That's why Apple doesn't just sell phones and tablets.
They sell iTunes and iCloud. They sell AirPlay and Siri. They sell an experience that becomes something that "just works" together. They sell something that, once you buy in, buying in even more provides even greater value than the sum of the parts.
You can own an iPad and a different company's phone or media box or computer. But owning an iPad and and iPhone and an Apple TV and a Mac brings you far greater value. Your apps look the same and work the same across your devices. Your music and movies and TV shows play across devices. Your personal information, browser tabs, and reading positions sync across everything you own.
You can download a network-sponsored app on your iPhone, have the same app just appear on your iPad, and your family can be AirPlaying any event in the Olympics on your big screen TV only minutes later.
That's just one example of many that Apple absolutely nails. It's functionality, customer experience, and brand affection that's non-trivial to copy. It's a product strategy that's almost incomprehensible to those who's strategy is to copy.
Right now, Apple is spending millions of dollars on lawyers, battling Samsung across continents, and revealing prototype devices and product histories they would never have otherwise revealed, because they're indignant that Samsung has copied the iPhone and iPad the way Samsung has likely copied refrigerators and countless other products for decades.
When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone he said Apple was 5 years ahead of the competition. Now, 5 years later, even the competition's best new devices can't match the multitouch user experience of iOS in consistency or quality, or the content of iTunes in accessibility or availability. But they are matching and even beating Apple when it comes to individual features and functionality.
Apple's reaction to Samsung is understandable on a very human level. Most of us have likely wished we could do the same thing when we've felt copied or ripped off. Including those who have felt copied by Apple.
It sucks, really and truly. But ultimately it's a losing battle at best, and a distraction at worst.
Tim Cook said Apple couldn't be the developer for the world, but the alternative is much, much worse.
Regardless of how Apple vs. Samsung plays out, or individual app copying plays out, it's not in the courtroom that innovation has to win. It's in the product design labs, go to market strategies, and retail shelves. Because the copying never stops. And the only thing worse than being copied is losing the ability to innovate and becoming a copyist.
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