Apple’s Future

So Steve has left. Good luck to him, and I wish him a very happy retirement. I have owned an Apple every day since 1981 when I started work. I even used one until about 2 years ago when I finally decided that PCs had reached a usability level I could tolerate and the frustrations of using my Mac with Microsoft’s software finally got too much. It lives now as a guest room machine.

Apple has given us much, and in the last decade has pushed technology towards a point where all IT engineers knew it was going, but other manufacturers resisted until Apple forced them to play catch-up. It isn’t ideas Apple do, it is making them work adequately and prettily. They make technology meet us half way instead of forcing us to read manuals.

Concept-wise, there really is nothing new about the ipad. The staff on Star Trek walked round with such things decades earlier and even outside scifi, every half decent IT engineer since 1990 expected wafer thin, flexible, coffee table tablets to be one of the steps towards the eventual future (of full direct brain link, via the intermediate stage of thought recognition and direct retinal projection) – and even the ipad falls short of that still. It is still too fat, heavy, power hungry, delicate and slippery, but it is heading the right way. The iphone did much the same with mobile phones, even that copying much the same that approach that Magic Cap offered in the early 1990s. We all knew phones would go that way, it was only ever a matter of time, but Apple were the one to break down the door. What Apple have done is to make these ideas work and work well. They made them pretty and easy to use, getting all the stuff out of the way that you don’t really need. So, three cheers to Apple, and to Steve Jobs who offered the guidance. I don’t envy the chap having to fill his shoes.

But the last week or two have shown that Apple is showing interest in The Dark Side. Getting the new Samsung pad banned in Germany is not fair play. The ipad is pretty, but I repeat, it wasn’t a new idea. Apple did a lot for us, but they didn’t come up with the idea of an intuitive lightweight hand-held general purpose pad. Indeed, the future path towards the full direct brain link is already mapped out very well, and there will be precious few new ideas along the way to getting there other than clever ways of implementing stuff.

In patent speak, there is considerable prior art for the ipad, even if Roddenberry and his associates hadn’t come up with it for Star Trek. And in the context of everything else going on in the IT world, the pad design and technology needs would by now be blindingly obvious to anyone working in IT. Monopolies of the obvious should not be protected by courts. If Apple accomplish a particularly brilliant pad by using some clever and genuinely novel technology inside the box, then they should be able to protect that, but trying to get other pads banned because they also look like everyone’s view of what a pad should look like is just holding technology back by making unjust claims of ownership on ideas held by everyone.

If Apple use legal muscle to try to hold back technology or design that is obvious to anyone with a three figure IQ, they will certainly lose my admiration.

Jobs has gone. He did a good job but has left just as his company arrived at a fork in the road. Apple has to choose which path to take under its new leader. Either it can continue to smash down the doors and lead the industry through, and keep our respect and admiration, or it can try to use courts to close the doors behind it. If it does that, it will quickly lose the value Jobs built up. Hover your mouse pointer over the Sell button for the next few days. They will be critical.

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