Thoughts on Samsung, Apple, and Patents

I’ve been struggling about what to make of the recent patent spat between Samsung and Apple.  I do think that the level of discorse provided by most techies on this issue is somewhat lacking.  Hacker News seems to have come down firmly on the “patents are evil, ergo Apple is too” side of things.  I’m not sure it’s quite so simple.

Here’s what I know:

  • I’m against business process or “method” patents.  This generally covers most software or patenting things like algorithms.
  • I think there is an incredible amount of copying that goes on in the tech world.  Every company does it, and every company cries foul when it’s done against them.  I’ve written about this before.
  • I do believe that copying a tangible product should not be legal or tolerated.  Fake clothing brands, for example, or counterfeit items are not only crass, they can be dangerous (remember the baby formula issue in China?).
  • It was obvious from day one that Google and Android blatantly, crudely, and poorly ripped off iOS.  They didn’t spend any effort on being original or attempting to innovate.  I think the mental gymnastics that are performed by many geeks trying to absolve Google in this respect are intellectually dishonest and silly.
  • In my experience, the best defense is a good offense and the only real way to beat someone who’s ripping you off is to out innovate them.  Consumers will generally figure out who’s for real and who is playing second fiddle.
  • There have been several incidents over the past few years on Hacker News where a startup felt they were being copied by others, and the entire community expressed a lot of outrage over this.

I’m an Apple stock holder and an Apple customer.  Have been for years.  I think the conclusion that I’m coming to on this particular issue is that I feel a guilty party got what they deserved (for product trade dress copying) but the means to the victory was really awful (using the patent system).  I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me if Levis can sue someone for ripping off their logo or making fake goods without owning a patent to the blue jean, why can’t we have that method in the tech industry?  I’m curious if using the patent system in this respect was a “nuclear option” that sends a signal to everyone else who might cross them in this area.  Apple certainly learned a lot during their lawsuit against Microsoft in the nineties and probably had their playbook well thought through prior to even launching the iPhone.  I also feel like Google got away with something here, as they were culpable in ripping Apple off as well.

The most bizarre thing about this whole mess is that somehow Microsoft came out looking like a world class innovator with their new Metro mobile OS which looks nothing like iOS.  Ten years ago, who could have imagined a scenario where Apple wins against someone ripping them off, Microsoft is the innovator, and Google is the evil corporation blatantly and poorly copying someone else?

Quick Tip for Display Port Problems with a MacBook Pro

I connect my MacBook Pro to an external display via a DisplayPort -> HDMI connector.  After a couple of months of problem free operation, all of a sudden my MacBook wouldn’t recognize the external monitor.  It would flash blue (clearly recognising something was connected) then not display the image.

After a lof of searching around and ordering a replacement cable, here’s what solved it:  Power off (as in disconnect from the wall) the monitor, then unplug the cable, then plug the cable back in, then reconnect power to the monitor, then turn the monitor back on.

Everything else I tried including resetting the PRAM didn’t work.  Hope this helps someone.

Steve Jobs

There’s been so much written about Steve Jobs that there’s not much to add.  Like millions of others, I remember the first time I ever used an Apple product.  It was to play Number Munchers and Oregon Trail.  My first Macintosh experience was on an LCII in one of the few airconditioned rooms in Taiwan – my elementary school’s computer lab.  While I was too young to appreciate the differences between the (at the time) very outdated Apple II and our fairly outdated IBM compatible XT Turbo, the Macintosh was clearly completely different.  I managed to swing an editor job on our 5th grade newspaper which afforded me almost unlimited time to learn how it worked.  Everything was exciting on that machine, even word processing!

I bought my very first Apple product in college, the 2nd generation iBook with a 500Mhz G3 processor and OS X.  It was a little underpowered, but the hardware design was incredible and I remember being thrilled when I got several OpenGL school projects to run on Windows, Linux, and my new Mac.

To me, Steve Jobs embodies hope.  A college dropout becomes a billionare.  A man with limited technical skills becomes the an incredible driver of technology.  Fired from his company, failing at NEXT, he stakes almost all of his personal fortune and strikes gold with Pixar.  He affects industry after industry, despite many many setbacks along the way.  Sure, he was a jerk, but that’s a hopeful story too – jerks can learn to movitate people and soften when they get older.  Of course, none of these thoughts are based on personal experience, but it’s the perception I get.  Steve’s life to me is a story of hope triumphing over reality.

I’m excited to read his biography, and I’m sad I never got the chance to meet Steve, except through his products, but here’s to a legacy of hope.

A Few Things I Wish the Apple Appstore Had…

My first app store experience was many years ago, before Apple, before iOS, before any of the other app stores you see today.  It was Redhat’s Redcarpet subscription service which delivered a library of applications (packages) via the internet in an easy to use command line tool.  There was even a GUI if I remember correctly.  Then Debian/Ubuntu came around with their package repositories and it was such a major usability difference between Linux and Apple/Microsoft that it was only a matter of time before it caught on.  Of course, the ideals behind the Linux offerings of ease of use, reliability, and compatibility are supplanted somewhat by the key aims of profitability and control inherent in modern app stores, but who’s counting?Things I wish the Apple App Store had (these are post-Lion upgrade thoughts)

  • Some way to know what the schedule of app update notifications is – it’s unclear to me if this is daily, whether I have to have the appstore application running all the time, etc.
  • The App Store should intelligently close your application when updating an existing application.
  • The App Store should be able to store your credentials, and not require credentials for doing an update if the app is in safe state (e.g. closed).
  • There should be a compatibility layer in Lion that lets you run your iOS apps on your Mac.  I’m sure this is coming, but I wonder when.
  • The App Store should offer to scan your hard drive and find applications that it can manage for you.
  • On the Featured and other pages, you should be able to hide apps you’ve already installed.
  • Somewhere down the line, it might be interesting to have a “lists” feature like Amazon.  Apple could even show what apps certain celebrities use in lists like the inflight magazines do for travel accessories.  Maybe that’s too much on the pointless-marketing side.

I’m sure there are some other options that I’m missing, but overall I’m happy with the experience.  The App Store managed Lion install was incredibly painless, and so much nicer than having to mess with the Apple store, or a nasty CompUSA.