I have said it here before that Apple’s patent wars are absolutely ridiculous. I still share that conviction, particularly when I think back to Samsung’s win in a UK court this week over Apple. While I do not think that the adjective “cool” should describe or guide a judicial ruling, the result was excellent: Apple cannot block the sale of Samsung’s 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab. Apple has no right to block Samsung’s sales of the Galaxy Nexus, either.
In today’s post, I would like to discuss the reason why I think Apple’s patent wars are ludicrous. My reason behind writing this post is not to spat off things that I have already said, but to provide a definitive reason as to why, in my opinion, Apple has no right to plunge forward in its patent wars against every smartphone company that will emerge to compete with it. The best part of this post consists of the fact that other tech writers have drilled my reason thoroughly in their work throughout this past week and last.
First, there is Ira Sager’s article titled “Before IPhone and Android Came Simon, the World’s First Smartphone.” This article was released in the Bloomberg Businessweek Technology section two weeks ago, but it is an article worth reading. Produced by IBM and BellSouth, the first smartphone was called “Simon” and was meant to be simple. The “Simon” was so named to produce within consumers a reminiscence of that which was basic and simple. When I was growing up, I remember my kindergarten teacher saying, “Simon says, touch your arm” or “Simon says, ‘go to sleep.’” The goal of the game “Simon Says” was to see who could follow directions. This was perfect for teachers whose class was too energetic and chaotic. Simon says could calm students down and reward students who did what the teacher told them to do. The repetitive nature of the game made it one in which any individual could participate. The phone was called “Simon” because its designers wanted the phone to be simple to operate for consumers.
The Simon Personal Communicator weighed eighteen ounces and stood at eight inches tall, had a 2.5-inch screen, and was 1.5-inches thick. Standard smartphone screens today have been 3.5 inches thick and are growing to as many as 4.8 inches thick (thanks to Samsung’s Galaxy S III), but the focus on the Simon was the phone’s height—which was built in its original design to accommodate the various functions and battery life the device would need to perform at tip-top shape. Most smartphones today are half the height or less than half the height of the Simon smartphone. The Sager article shows various prototypes of the Simon, prototypes that match current smartphones today (such as Nokia).
“When did the first smartphone emerge?” you will ask. The Simon first emerged in 1993, fourteen years before Apple would arrive on the scene with its beloved iPhone 1. The time distance between the Simon and the iPhone shows us that clearly, Apple did not invent the idea of the smartphone that we know of today. If you watch the Bloomberg Businessweek Technology video in Sager’s article, you will find that the Simon was similar to the iPhone in operations: the Simon provided maps for directions, applications to purchase and download, as well as texting, messages, stock quotes, a camera, and music player. The original smartphone provided a stylus with a touchscreen by which you could write your name and send text messages. Is it not interesting that Apple recently received an iPen patent that provides a stylus for its own iDevices? When you examine Apple’s current trends with the iPhone, such as the stylus, texting, camera, maps, and so on, you can see that the real innovators of the smartphone were the designers of the Simon, not the current smartphone that we have today (sorry, Sir Jony).
I know what many will say here: “that’s about the smartphone, not the tablet.” Well, I have read and researched news about the tablet as well. It turns out that, like the smartphone, the tablet patent does not belong to Apple either. According to the Android Authority, the Knight Ridder is the first company to have come up with the idea of an electronic tablet back in 1994. If you watch the video embedded in the article, you will find that the tablet features a stylus, touchscreen, video, digital newspapers, and even voice reading. Amazon’s Kindle Keyboard was a big hit when it first arrived on the scene, particularly because it could read books, newspapers, and magazines to readers. To be honest, the Kindle was not the first device to read to its owners—the electronic tablet idea of Knight Ridder was the first of its kind.
What is the summation of all of this evidence? To give a definitive reason as to why the smartphone and tablet wars are unnecessary. Apple did not invent the smartphone nor the tablet, and both products originated from Apple’s predecessors. To use a phrase that the great scientist Isaac Newton once used, smartphone companies, including Apple, are “standing on the shoulders of giants.” Thus, it is the giants before Apple—IBM, BellSouth, and Knight Ridder—that deserve all the credit for the convenient devices that consumers have today.