Opinion: Apple's Tim Cook to Google 'Switch off your photocopiers'

By Jonny Evans

It's all about integrity and respect: you have them, you show them. That's Apple [AAPL] CEO Tim Cook's unspoken message when he said he'd like to end the Android wars, but it's going to take effort from Google to make this happen. It's going to take an apology and an admission.

[ABOVE: Sergey Brin and Steve Horowitz talked up Android in this 2007 video.]

Jaw-jaw, not war-war

"I would highly prefer to settle than to battle," Cook told analysts after last night's Apple financial call. But that's not an admission the company knows it can't fight on, it's the sad shrug of a reluctant warrior, prepared to fight, but ready to make peace.

Read the whole statement (courtesy of Seeking Alpha).

"I've always hated litigation, and I continue to hate it. We just want people to invent their own stuff. And so if we could get to some kind of arrangement where we could be assured that's the case and a fair settlement on the stuff that's occurred, I would highly prefer to settle versus battle. But it -- the key thing is that it's very important that Apple not become the developer for the world. We need people to invent their own stuff."

I read this as meaning that Apple wants to settle the outstanding patent disagreements, wants to reach a point at which it can be certain its competitors won't emulate every user interface improvement, and wants compensation for previous hurts.

I don't think that's an unreasonable position. Particularly since Apple's enemies are attempting to use FRAND-type patents against the firm in a defensive maneuver. If the competition were secure in their positions they wouldn't feel the need to break the spirit of industry-wide, standards-based patent understandings in order to defend themselves.

[ABOVE: Steve Jobs launches iPhone in January 2007.]

Unique ideas

Cook's key point: that Apple doesn't want to "become the developer for the world" is critical. Critics complain at Apple's walled garden approach -- that its ecosystem offers customers everything they need, but only inside Apple's device/software world. They feel the fruit in Apple's garden should be available to devices which aren't made by the company.

The company's position is different. It strives to make the best solutions, and puts them behind a wall deliberately. That's because it doesn't want to compete with anyone. Its offering to customers is based on the principle that inside its world you'll enjoy the best possible experience. If you want the best experience you'll choose an Apple product. There's no pressure to choose that world, other solutions do exist and if those are what you want, that's fine. It's not as if there aren't other solutions to choose from.

However, when other platforms choose to emulate Apple's user experiences, the company sees them as poachers. The company wants competitors to grow their own gardens. To find different user interface paradigms. To develop their own unique customer experiences.

In other words, Cook's message to Google's Android army is that they should switch off their photocopiers. Further, Cook seems to want an admission from Google that, while then CEO Eric Schmidt sat on Apple's board, Google was gaining insight into iPhone user interface ideas. Historically, it is no secret that the early Android OS was more like BlackBerry than iPhone. This had magically changed by the time Android shipped.

I accept that in some small cases -- notifications, for example -- Apple could be accused of emulating Android. I would observe that Google switched on its photocopiers first, and while two wrongs don't make a right (or do they?) that instance seems a good place to begin settlement negotiations.

Is settlement inevitable?

Settlement is -- hopefully -- inevitable. Apple will not shift from the position put forward by Steve Jobs, that Android "is a stolen product".

The litigation between Apple and various Android partners is intensifying, if anything, with winners and losers on both sides. Ask yourself, however, what's sexy about this courtroom drama? Where's the entertainment when only the lawyers get paid? What is the impact of these expensive cases on the bottom line of HTC, Samsung, Motorola and other Android licensees?

The lack of a clear victory so far indicates, at the very least, that Apple's claims are sufficiently credible that courts cannot make an easy judgment. Even Motorola's ITC win isn't a complete victory. The litigation can roll along for a decade, but the only people profiting from these problems are pundits and lawyers.

It's only a question of time until the collective psychosis of the mobile patent wars becomes too big a burden to bear, until all sides in the war lose the will to fight.

Google, please come clean

It's a given that those who fight for what they believe in will fight harder, stronger and longer than those battling for empty, fragile goals. In this war, Apple is convinced it is in the right. Nothing Cook said last night detracts from that position.

It's time Google changed its tactic in this war. Apple has said it is willing to settle, but Google will have to step up to the plate and declare at least some partial guilt. It will have to make an offer, and keep to certain promises. It will then be able to focus its thinking on coming up with original ideas.

Sadly, even when it comes to Web search -- at least, beyond the algorithms driving such search -- Google's business isn't based on generating its own original ideas, but on making other people's ideas searchable. That's the firm's great strength, and its great weakness.

Google's famed investments in igniting creativity among its staff don't reflect a firm that's confident in its own innovation, but one trying to fill the creative gap at the center of its corporate soul. Consider the scattergun approach with which it launches -- and later abandons -- new ideas.

For Apple versus Google, peace would be so simple to achieve. All it would take is a little strength of character, a little disclosure, an admission of partial guilt, a little punishment, and a promise not to do it again. The kind of thing most children are capable of. Sadly, when it comes to today's corporations, such integrity appears hard to find. At least, that's my opinion.

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