Apple hurting innovation? I think not.

I promised pownce friends a reply to this article, so here goes.

I have to admit I find it difficult to respond to the article, principally because it starts out with the premise that companies are out to make money, and that Apple is a late adopter that steals innovation by making new technologies useable once they have matured.

This sentence here is key, “In fact, it may be that [the more innovative competitors of Apple] can’t, but that doesn’t mean the public doesn’t win by them trying.”

So Apple can make money, while everybody else has to work hard to please the public without any direct benefit. Doesn’t sound very fair, nor particularly sound advice.

So let’s see where the problem is. First off, why are there so many tech companies throwing new gadgets onto the market? Well, why are there so many bloggers, podcasters and vloggers? Because there’s a market for it? No, because people want to talk/write/be rock stars. Are they making any money? For 99% of bloggers, the answer would be no: on an economic analysis, it’s a waste of time.

Good companies are driven by demand, bad companies are driven by supply. This is what is happening in the tech industry: Microsoft, Archos, Creative, SanDisk et al. (hereafter MACS) have engineers who are fascinated with the technology and want to bring it to end users as quickly as possible. Apple, by contrast, will only release a polished product, for a market that has been proven to exist, and only after it has passed the test of usability consultants, not to mention the usability aspect. Every good CEO should know that only 8% of industries are dominated by the market leader, and yet companies continue to push themselves to be pioneers.

This brings us to another flaw in the article, which is the implicit assumption that without MACS pushing the envelope, innovation would cease. This is clearly not the case, because by the article’s argument, Apple’s business would shrink if they did not innovate. Last I checked, consumer electronics devices were the largest money earner in Apple’s business, and if they can’t “out-date” last year’s devices, they’re stuck. So if you believe yourself to be unfairly parasitised, just cease innovating and let Apple take the lead. Plug your holes, keep your R&D bottled up, as Apple has done for years. Let’s assume an unrealistic worst case scenario for illustration here. Let’s assume MACS refuse to innovate, and Apple bites the dust because they’ve forgotten how to do it (remember, I said it was going to be unrealistic!) Where would innovation come from? (Insert your choice of smurf or gummi bears intro music.) A long, long time ago, there was a little forest in whom little creatures dwelled – dashing and daring, courageous and caring, faithful and friendly, I’ll spare you the rest. Yes, universities, academics. They develop technologies, see?

All that would result from MACS taking a back seat would be mature devices with better interoperability, using standard protocols. I cannot but applaud Apple for showing that mature products can win consumers, even though I may individually criticise their devices and software, their business model, standards compliance, and thinly veiled desire for consumer lock-in.