There is an awful lot of change going on in tech right now – and I don’t just mean the sad but inevitable news that Steve Jobs has stepped down from Apple due to ill health and passed on the CEO mantle to Tim Cook.
Jobs’ vision and ceaseless pursuit of flawless performance and usability have rightly passed into legend, while product designer extraordinaire Jonathan Ive has triumphed time and again with the iPod, iMac and iPhone. “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough,” said Jobs at the iPad 2 launch.
In recent times, Apple has sought to protect some of the technologies showcased in such iconic products. Imitation is flattering, but commercial imitators shouldn’t expect to be able to profit from copying ideas without paying their patent dues.
Apple has recently engaged in a number of high-profile spats with other big names in the mobile phone market, trading court injunctions and disputing patents with the likes of HTC, Nokia and Samsung. While the news of yet another stand-off is wont to make us groan, patents and intellectual property protection rights are what you need to make money from your innovation.
One company that thinks innovation and profit margins in IT hardware are now beyond its reach is HP. In August it announced that it is stepping away from the manufacture of laptops and desktop PCs and will instead focus on software services. A bonanza ensued as HP sold off its recently launched TouchPad tablets at a knockdown price. Its webOS tablet operating system was bold, but HP could see no long-term use – or perhaps profitability – for it.
Other companies playing the long game have found the web is where sustained growth and reward can be found. Google and Facebook are relative newcomers to the technology scene when compared to the 35-year-old Apple and 72-year-old HP.
The web startups have grown alongside Web 2.0, offering their online email, search and social-networking services for free in return for little more than a few personal details and the right to show you context-based ads (from which their profits derive). It wasn’t such a huge trade-off at first, but the algorithms they use have become more sophisticated, showing us more and more of our personal details and demonstrating just how much the web knows about us.
Scammers have now wised up to the possibilities of talking to us through our chosen online channels, making it all the more important we ensure we’re sharing only the information we’re happy to make public.
As we went to press, Facebook implemented changes to its privacy settings to help provide greater controls. To safely enjoy the web and protect our privacy, however, we need to take responsibility too.
Just as tech companies have a vested interest in controlling their information and intellectual property, we need to start using tools to control valuable, saleable information about ourselves.