Why Apple’s win against Samsung is a win for innovation and bad car analogies suck.

In a post by Matthew Yglesias on Slate, he attempts to suggest that if Apple’s victory against Samsung would apply to cars, it would be bad for the consumer, suggesting a similar case in the car industry would, among other things, prevent manufacturers using steering wheels, for instance. This is a lousy analogy. Let me explain why.

The fundamental actions one does on a phone are not at stake here. Smart phones can have touch buttons, use a numerical touch pad to dial numbers, have a qwerty keyboard to input text, pop-up menus and all the other fundamental common features. What is being addressed here are software features that Apple spent years designing, such as pinch-to-zoom, which the big companies can simply licence from Apple or not use (it’s not like they can’t afford to). A better analogy would be Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, which, like Apple’s ideas, can be licensed. Does anyone attack Toyota for patenting their system?

If you want to see a world where companies like Apple cant take the huge risks they did to bring the iPhone to market, you only have to look at the world of PCs, where everything is pretty much a copy of everything else, and companies are were afraid to do anything unique until Apple came along and changed things with the iMac, or, more recently, the MacBook Air and iPad. In the PC world, companies were still making machines with very out-of-date VGA, PS-2 and serial ports for years after they were essentially redundant — because everyone else did so and they had no serious innovation (except increases in processor speed and hard drive size) to push them forward.

Even more telling was the phone market before the iPhone. The only interesting design that came out for years was the Motorola Razr, and the software for it has always been rubbish. We had to put up with being locked into whatever software came with the phone with no chance to get upgrades or new features without buying a new phone. While this is still true now, partially, the world of 3rd party software has exploded to a degree that may even exceed what is available for regular PCs, making it a moot point. This vast improvement has come about because of Apple taking huge risks. If companies weren’t allowed some sort of protection against their innovations being directly copied, we’d have little innovation at all, as everyone would just copy everyone else, and that would most definitely be a huge loss for the consumer.

As Google has pointed out, Apple’s win against Samsung isn’t about Android. If it wasn’t already obvious, it is about Samsung trying to steal from Apple’s successful ideas rather than make their own. We’ve already spent enough time, first with PCs and then with phones suffering from a lack of genuine innovation. That there is anyone out there who would rather go back to that time truly astounds me.

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