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Daniel Burrus

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Apple's Message to the World: Innovate, Don't Imitate

Posted: 09/07/2012 1:08 pm

Apple's victory in the Samsung patent case sends a hidden, but clear message to the business world: Innovating is far better than imitating.

Many of the patents that were under question in the Apple case are familiar to consumers. For example, the pinch-to-zoon gesture, where you pinch the screen to make something smaller and move your fingers apart to make the image larger, is just one of many Apple features deemed an imitation by Samsung.

Even though Samsung made the phone that triggered the lawsuit, Google made the Android operating system used within the phone. So this lawsuit has an impact, in an indirect yet powerful way, on Google because for every iPhone sold worldwide, more than three smart phones running Android are sold, and many of these are Samsungs. It's clear that Google has implemented many of its own mobile OS innovations, but it is also clear to the court that it has been doing a good job of imitating Apple's features and functionality. If you look beyond Google to the entire smart phone and tablet industry, including Amazon's latest tablet reader, it might seem like they are forced to copy Apple's features because Apple is so far ahead in leading the industry.

Does that mean the entire industry is stuck imitating the world's richest company? They don't have to be, unless you believe that all the best ideas have already been taken.

Many decades ago, the U.S. government was considering closing the patent office because they felt that everything had been invented. Obviously, they were wrong. In 2009, when I started an Apps business, I heard a news report that said, "If you're thinking of starting an apps company, don't bother. There are already 100,000 apps in the Apple store and all of the good app ideas are already taken." But I saw a different picture. I knew we were at the base of a mountain of massive change, so I ignored that report.

When we released our first app a few months later, we were the 17th most downloaded app within the first week. We were featured in The Wall Street Journal and Forbes, and on national television. I'm glad I didn't listen to that news report.

The best smart phone and tablet ideas have not been invented yet!  That's because we're on a graph that is going extremely high and fast in terms of transformational change. We have processing power, storage, and bandwidth in a state of exponential change. Yes, they've been like that for many years, but now they're in the "big deal" phase.  We are at the base of a mountain filled with opportunity for those who think beyond the product and innovate around the core.  Apple's success is not just the smart phone or the tablet or their operating system. Rather, it's a finely-tuned ecosystem that includes both the supply chain and the demand chain that focuses all of their products into a powerful user experience that's highly-compelling.

From the iPhone, iPad, iPod, and iTunes to iCloud, iPhoto, iMovie, and iBook to MacBooks and Apple desktops, all the offerings have a familiar look and feel. If you can use one, you can use them all, and better yet, you want them all. Then there's Apple TV, and it's not hard to see that you could take an iPad, make it bigger, put it in your living room, and call it an iTV. It's very clear that something like that is on the way.

So the smart phone, the smart TV, the smart tablet, and all our devices are changing so fast that copying will keep you behind. You just can't catch up by imitating anymore. The verdict in favor of Apple is not about a billion dollar settlement, it is more about the fact that innovation isn't just important--it's everything.

 

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