Big Tech Companies Won’t Bring Innovation

Mac PC WarPaul Krugman foolishly waded into the Apple-Microsoft wars this morning, On The Symmetry Between Microsoft And Apple. He really is pretty clueless about this stuff. Normally, I wouldn’t have even read it, but he started by noting, “There is… a remarkable symmetry between Microsoft’s strategy in its heyday and Apple’s strategy today.” So I read it thinking that he was going to discuss how both companies have tried to cling to power more than provide their customers with fun and useful products.

Alas no. All he was really talking about is how market dominance has affected them. But that doesn’t make sense. Microsoft truly had market dominance; Apple has had, at best, market leadership. When it comes to smart phones and tablets, there have always been competitors with substantial market presence. What’s more, Krugman seems to think that Microsoft’s dominance was due to IT professionals. That’s not true at all. What gave Microsoft its edge was that there were programs that people really wanted to use and they only ran on Microsoft. That’s why DOS continued for years after it should have been long gone.

I don’t see that Apple products provide anything that you just can’t get on Android. Now that most definitely does not mean that Android is better than Apple (or iOS). But it does mean that Apple—unlike Microsoft in the 1980s—has to compete on its offerings. It can’t skate by with a so-so product because Apple Maps is just infinitely better than what you get with Google Maps on the Android. Of course, one of the best changes between the 1980s and now is that everything is available everywhere now.

You might notice that in this discussion, Microsoft isn’t really a player now. I expect that in the future, Apple won’t be much of a player too. After all, how long will people continue to buy expensive devices from Apple when they can get cheaper ones from Samsung and other companies? That’s not to say that Apple will go away. Microsoft hasn’t gone away. But it doesn’t much matter in terms of what’s going on in the industry. And the same thing is most likely to happen to Apple.

Now is the time when the Apple defenders coming roaring back. As one commenter to Krugman’s article put it, “[Apple] also has a history of secrecy—there’s a good chance that its next killer app will surface soon.” That is simply pathological. Since when do we turn to major corporate behemoths for great innovation? Since when did we ever turn to Apple? Such comments are just the ravings of Apple fanatics who will be engaged in the same apologetics long after we’ve moved on from laser keyboards to a thought interface. As I’ve pointed out many times, Apple isn’t an innovative company; they are an excellent packager of other people’s ideas. And that’s great! But revolutionary it ain’t.

The comments on the article were typical of this kind of stuff. You would think people would try not to be such walking and talking cliches. Many of the comments were, “I wouldn’t say that Apple’s products were better in the 1980s.” Really?! The original Mac OS wasn’t better than DOS 3? Give me a break! Not to be outdone, the Mac idolaters came back with, “If you used a Mac you would never need any help from IT experts.” Yes, because Apple products are perfect. I’m duly impressed by both companies. Apple showed what great things you could do with some (other people’s) cutting edge ideas and set hardware. Microsoft showed that you could support an almost infinite variety of hardware and make a usable system. But at this point, both systems are equally complicated. People on both sides of this war seem to be stuck in the late 1980s.

Of course, no Mac-PC war would be complete without, “Now I use Linux and I’m happy as clam!” All I have to say to these people is, “Go back in the water.” I don’t say that because I dislike Linux. I use it all the time. But for most people, using Linux is not an option.

Regardless of all this, I doubt that the next big innovation in technology is going to come from Apple or Microsoft or Google. I also doubt it will be anything like what we’ve seen. It amazes me that every new high tech orgasm is over what are minor variations on existing technologies. But don’t listen to me. I felt that way about blogs. And I was right! But that didn’t stop them from being very important.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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