Competitiveness builds features, lowers prices

I’m writing this blog post on my Sony machine booting into Ubuntu.  Blogging today on a Macintosh computer just wouldn’t feel right.

The news was flooded with stories about the Apple / Samsung lawsuit today and I found the reading interesting.  I suppose that ultimately this is a good thing for Apple but I suspect that it’s going to be a bad thing for the rest of us.  It’s all about patents and I’m certainly not an expert on patents.  I’m just an end user that buys a piece of technology because it’s what I want.

I don’t consider myself an early adopter of technology.  You only get an opportunity to buy a new computer every few years and so I want to make the best choice that I can.  As I look down at the computer as I’m typing, I see things that are common on all computers.  Keys – in this case “chiclet keyboard”; lights to indicate that caps or num lock are on, a power or Windows key, a green light to indicate that it’s one – it changes colour while low in power, a camera at the top of the screen, a track pad under the space bar with both left and right mouse button functionality, configurable pad scrolling, function keys with additional functions available, and a whole lot more.  I’m pretty sure that the engineers at Sony didn’t invent and patent each and every feature this machine has!  I’ve used Lenovo, Apple, Dell, Samsung, and HP computers and they have pretty much included all of these features or some variant of them.  Just as I’m sure that Sony didn’t invent them all, I’m also sure that Apple and HP didn’t invent the features that are available on their machines as an independent activity.

In fact, my limited access to the entire world of computers could easily be expanded and you’d see the same features on all kinds of computers.

What’s interesting though is that a keyboard is much more than a keyboard.  Sure the location of the keys are the same but the way that they are actually implemented vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.  That’s why trying to type on a keyboard is part of the decision making that goes into product purchase.

Over the years, it’s become what we expect to see when we think computer.

Computers don’t have a monopoly on this.  I was in one of my favourite technology stores and oohing and aahing at the latest display of flat screen televisions.  It’s pretty difficult to tell a Panasonic from a Sharp from a Samsung from an LG when you compare the display models.  Today’s television sets are flat, black, and show video content on them.  It’s what we’ve become to expect when we think television.  Yet, as a consumer, I have preference for what I want.  (OK, I’d want them all to fill every room but that’s just silly)  With so many competing companies, we win as a consumer.  They compete annually for pricing, incentives, features, and warranties.  

What were the issues in this case?  There were a number of stories from Cnet that helped me make sense of this.  One deal with the exact issues in the case.  It’s a scorecard indicating just what the patent issues were.  It still seems to me incredulous that some of these are things that can be patented.  Double click to centre on a document?   Pinch and zoom?  Aren’t these the sorts of things that we’ve come to assume when we think Smartphone?  I look back to the items above that I think of when I think computer.  Then mentally, I thought of things that I would consider standard when I think Smartphone.  In this legal case, I was quite disappointed.  I expected claims of reverse engineering of the OS or copying of computer chips or some other form of high tech crime.  I was looking for something really substantive as described in this short history of patent infringement.  Instead, we get this list?  And it’s worth over a billion dollars?

What happens with the ruling this week?  I think that it’s a given that Samsung will appeal and that this will drag on for a while yet.  Suppose it stands and things like pinch and zoom are only available on Apple products.  What impact will this have on consumers?  Think pricing is going to get better?  Think you’ll have a choice in products?

All I know for sure is that I would not have been a good choice as a juror.  I like it when companies compete with each other to better the features and better the pricing.


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