Tim Cook said in the last post I wrote that Apple does not want to be “the developer of the world.” This is after his words in the All Things Digital interview, where he noted that Apple cannot produce a feature or innovation that “someone else puts their name on.” It was suggested in the interview that Apple has placed its name on a painting or two that may have ripped someone else off, but Tim Cook dodges the question smoothly. The key statement for this post consists of Cook’s statement about Apple as “the developer of the world”:
“From our point of view, it’s important that Apple not be the developer for the world. We cannot take all of our energy and all of our care, and finish the painting, and have someone else put their [sic] name on it. We cannot have that. The worse thing in the world that can happen to you if you’re an engineer and you’ve given your life to something is to have someone to rip it off and put their [sic] name on it. What we want to accomplish is, we just want people to invent their own stuff” (Tim Cook interview with All Things Digital: http://allthingsd.com/20120720/google-claims-popularity-has-made-some-apple-patents-de-facto-essentials/).
What are we to make of this response from Apple? Well, it is understandable when you consider that Apple is an exclusive brand. When consumers purchase Apple products, there is a sense of pride within the consumer that says, “I am getting a quality product for a quality price.” The name says it all, and many consumers are willing to pay for a name. What’s in a name? A lot, especially when you consider that labels have innate identifiers (whether good or bad) that either motivate consumers or discourage them. It is because of Apple’s excellent name in the tech world that the company is motivated to retain its own innovative ideas. Apple has a history of excellence, but the company wants to retain its pristine reputation and sees innovative ideas as vital in this effort.
However, there is a flaw in the company’s reasoning: the flaw is noticeable when you understand that the kind of control Apple wants over its products is not the kind of control that any corporation, business, or innovator can have. To see this truth, examine the invention of the smartphone and tablet. When IBM and BellSouth invented Simon, the first smartphone, in 1993, the innovators and engineers did not see the extent of the impact their smartphone would have on the phone industry. They did not see that their smartphone would lead to current smartphone designs. They dared to innovate, but the impact spread beyond them to the world. In a sense, they were “world developers” by default—regardless of their decision to be an innovator or not.
What about the company Knight Ridder, with its invention of the electronic tablet? In 1994, the brainstorm group decided to create a tablet that would let readers continue to interact with the newspaper (as they had always done) but do so on a more technologically-sophisticated device. Knight Ridder had a vision of the future (the digital age), but could not know that its design would come to dominate the tablet market. The company could see only its time, place, and context. No human can see all the way into the future, but the company became a world developer by default—its designs blessed the world.
There are countless other examples of world designers, developers, and innovators. In our own time, book writers dominate the literary world, as do poets. When a book writer produces a novel, does the author have the right to determine the extent of his or her book’s influence, to say, “I do not want interpretations of my work to be published”? Of course not! When a book is produced, the author has control over his or her book alone; what others choose to say and write about the book does not lie within the purview of the writer’s control. The same can be said for technology: when Alexander Graham Bell invented the first telephone, he could not say, “The telephone will be designed with wires and a land line; I do not want the telephone to become wireless and portable.” He could not make such a statement because he could not see that far into the future. He did not know that wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) or portable phones would be invented several decades later.
When Apple says, “we do not want to be the developer of the world,” the company is saying that it does not want the impact of its designs and other innovative ideas to reach the world; rather, it wants to remain exclusive, craft its own ideas, and have consumers pay for those quality ideas. The unfortunate thing about this mindset is that Apple (as a company) came into existence, thanks to the work of other companies and their innovations. At the time Apple pressed forward with its iPhone under then-CEO Steve Jobs, IBM and BellSouth had crafted their “Simon” smartphone fourteen years earlier. If Apple has evolved into its current success and fame because of the ideas of Knight Ridder, IBM, and BellSouth, how then can it turn around and fight against the one thing that made Apple successful (commercially-essential ideas)?