Apple vs. Google: Consumers Win

A blog about business and economics.
July 30 2012 4:03 PM

Does Anyone Seriously Regret That Apple and Google Are Competing in the Smartphone Industry?

The massive patent lawsuit over smartphone hardware between Apple and Samsung moves to the trial phase today in San Jose, Calif. But as Jessica Vascellaro writes, Apple's real antagonist here isn't Samsung. It's Google. Samsung is the most successful firm to manufacturing Android-powered devices, and the problem with suing Google is that since they give Android away for free, it becomes complicated to make a case for damages:

The Apple-Google brawl extends far beyond the courts, with both companies racing to develop new features, digital-content offerings—including books and music—and services like maps. The dispute's legal chapter began more than two years ago, when Apple sued Android partner HTC Corp. of Taiwan in March 2010 and Samsung in April 2011. In a 2011 authorized biography, Apple's co-founder Steve Jobs called Android "a stolen product."

Google executives have denied stealing designs from Apple.
Apple didn't sue Google, however, opting instead to attack the companies that manufacture Android phones. It declines to say why. Patent lawyers say it is easier to make a case for monetary damages against companies that make handsets and tablets and sell them to consumers.

It's precisely the multifaceted nature of Apple vs. Android competition that makes the idea of using the legal system to shut Android down so absurd. For starters, nobody could possibly look at Apple's financial statements and share price over the past five years and somehow conclude that the existence of Android means Apple hasn't been financially rewarded for innovating. Everything about the iPhone's success screams out that you absolutely do want to make cool new consumer electronics products if you can, even if they spark copycat products.

But the existence of Android has meant that Apple doesn't rest on its laurels and has had to constantly try to upgrade the functionality of its phones. And though they surely wouldn't admit it in Cupertino, Apple has clearly taken to mimmicking the best ideas from Android—most recently by coming up with Notification Center and then reimporting it to the Mac for Mountain Lion. This kind of competitive dynamic is healthy for the world, and consumers have enjoyed an incredible bounty of smartphone innovation over the past few years.  

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.



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