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A History of Apple & Innovation: Google vs Apple; are Apple still “closed” for Business?

One of Apple’s historical problems in obtaining market dominance was that they essentially closed themselves off from the contribution that other companies could make to the software and application driven environments they developed. They in effect historically enabled DOS and Microsoft to always have available a wider selection of competing programs, all of which made DOS much more interesting to work with, despite incompatibilities and perhaps an inferior user interface.

It would appear that to some degree Apple have learnt from their mistakes in opening up their application development framework to third party developers; however they still heavily moderate the approval of applications for use within their application environments. It seems to me Apple are in a sticky situation, to open themselves up completely means sacrificing the close control they have over their brand and associated products; and in some sense it is this control that allows them to craft such appealing products and targeted marketing campaigns. However to continue along their current path could see them lose out to Google the same way they lost out to Microsoft decades ago.

Google’s democratic values and often community driven development of open source products allows their brand to spread to mass audiences far faster than that of Apple. It is this very route to market that defines Apple’s biggest challenge to date. Consider Google’s competing mobile operating system Android. It is based on Linux, another open source product, and operates an open source license allowing various mobile hardware companies to utilise the product.

Android’s flexibility and open approach in comparison to that of Apple’s mobile operating system could see it quickly spread to larger markets than that of Apple. Apple’s closed approach has meant that they must not only produce mobile operating systems, but the mobile hardware in the form of devices such as the iPhone also to go with it. One could argue that while they set very high standards in both areas; that attempting to develop into both the software and hardware mobile market could leave them exposed to strong alliances such as that of hardware producer HTC and mobile OS developers Google. Considering Apple’s predicament, it is perhaps no surprise then to find Apple leveraging the patent system once again;

“We were wondering when Google would have something to say about Apple’s patent lawsuit against HTC, since the majority of the claims appear to implicate Android itself, and while the knives aren’t out yet, we just got a short-but-sweet statement from a spokesperson:

“We are not a party to this lawsuit. However, we stand behind our Android operating system and the partners who have helped us to develop it.”” – (Engadget, 2010)

It is not clear what the future holds for Apple with respect to the mobile market, but what is clear is that they have a big challenge ahead of them. Perhaps they could learn from the past and their historic battles with Microsoft. After all, their products have benefited from steady “innovation” over time, so perhaps it is time that Apple’s market positioning followed suit.