Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Someone tell Apple to quit being a sore winner

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Apple's current lawsuit against Samsung -- its attempt to sue the tarnation out Samsung and block sales of its tablets and smartphones -- seems catastrophically ill-considered.

I have been an Apple user for many years, from the darkest days of OS 7 and 8 when nobody developed anything but desktop publishing programs and boring educational games, right to the present.

As I recall, Apple's early computers looked a lot like the offerings from HP, IBM and the other big players of the day. They were boxy and built in the ugliest shades of beige. They had a keyboard (albeit in a slightly different layout from the PCs) a mouse (with one button instead of two) and a big heavy monitor that covered up most of the desk.

I don't remember anyone suing anyone because the design of personal computers was essentially the same. Why not? Because that's just the way computers needed to be. Likewise, although the external shapes and internal engines of cars can vary widely, they all have four wheels, doors, seats, steering wheels and other basically similar controls. Otherwise, how would we drive them?

The layout of a touch-screen smartphone or tablet cannot be fundamentally different from the shape Apple chose. Of course, a tablet or handheld phone's dimensions can vary somewhat, but it will always fall within a certain range. Should it be ovular or triangular? Should it have a big hole in the middle of it for a hand-grip? Should it have sharp edges that jab at you from your pocket or purse? No. It should be square or rectangular with rounded edges. No one has built a circular monitor or a rhombus-shaped mouse, at least not successfully. The shape needs to be logical. Would you buy a smartphone shaped like a banana? Me neither.

If we go back to the earliest technology, it becomes instantly clear certain types of innovation can only exist if their form follows their function.

An elliptical wheel can roll but it does not have the same advantageous properties as a circular one; a blouse with three sleeves is wearable, but makes no sense; likewise, the general shape of the touch-screen tablet and smartphone ought to be incontestable.

Apple's more serious claim is the software and features of Samsung's phones are too much like its proprietary iOS. But again, there is no way to really re-imagine how people will interact with their hand-held devices. Apple had a similar complaint against Microsoft upon the introduction of Windows, which many (myself included) considered an inferior rendition of the Macintosh's graphical user interface-based operating system. But the world has benefited immensely from Microsoft's second-rate attempt at building a GUI, and no one has successfully argued Apple should have had sole rights to this innovation. Thank goodness -- Facebook on DOS would not be anywhere near as entertaining.

A touch-screen device can only operate within the parameters of its physicality, until voice or thought-controlled devices are commercially viable. Its tangible essence requires the use of a human finger or thumb to manipulate objects on its surface. If there is another way to perform these functions, beyond the ways already invented, it will take a philosopher, not a computer programmer, to think of it. What the question becomes, in light of these realities, is: Should lawmakers consign Apple's only major competitor to the dust bin because Apple was the first company to offer these devices to the mass market?

If one manufacturer legally controls the smartphone-tablet universe, then the market becomes a monopolistic mirror of that company's corporate values. Is Apple a company we ought to aspire to? They horde cash, release their innovations by increments to maximize sales and do not allow users to use other, non-proprietary hardware with their devices. They bully their competitors relentlessly and advertise us all into thinking we need to own their brand of cool.

Additionally, the application they have given us to manage their phones and tablets, iTunes, is a monolithic embarrassment to their earlier claim to be a company that makes well-designed, user-friendly products for the masses. It is a bloated and complicated storefront that has appendages dangling from every conceivable direction. It locks up your content and bombards you with Byzantine terms of use.

Should Apple prevail in its suit against Samsung, it will be a great loss for consumers and a great boost to the future robber-barons of capitalism. Mega-corporations in times to come will protect patent claims based on the flimsiest rationalizations and hold consumers to ransom for as long as laws allow. Apple has billions in the bank and products that sell like hotcakes despite Samsung's offerings. Can someone please tell them to just shut up and stop being such sore winners?


Former Winnipegger Ryan Kinrade is a British Columbia freelance writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2012 A11

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