Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

The life and legacy of Steve Jobs is a very popular topic right now, especially given the recent release of his biography. The Huffington Post had leaked bits and pieces of the book prior to its general availability, and one that got a decent amount of play was the interview in which Steve Jobs rips into Google and the release of the Android operating system. Jobs claimed Google performed a "wholesale ripoff" of the iPhone, and even if it cost him the $40B Apple had in the bank, he'd work to right this wrong.

"I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this," he told Isaacson of the patent lawsuit Apple filed against cell phone manufacturer HTC. [...] The author recalls that Jobs, who was known for his fierce temper, "became angrier than I had ever seen him" during a conversation about Apple's patent lawsuit, which by extension also accused Android of patent infringement.

"Our lawsuit is saying, 'Google you f***ing ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off,'" Jobs said, according to Isaacson. "I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product."

Reading that reminded me of the Discovery Channel documentary "iGenius: How Steve Jobs Changed the World". In it Steve talks about how he got inspiration for Apple products from other sources -- how the Xerox PARC interface was used in the creation of the Macintosh, how a Cuisinart food processor inspired the computer cases of Macs, etc... That's not to say that Jobs just copied those things, but he copied those things and made them better.

To say the iPhone was "stolen" while conveniently ignoring what Apple "stole" is extremely hypocritical. Jobs wasn't the first person to create a smartphone; he copied what those guys were doing and made it better. You could easily argue that Google is doing the exact same thing. While Android may owe the source of much of its functionality to Apple's iOS, Google also improved upon it in some very distinct ways, with Apple even admitting as much when it "stole" some of those features and promoted them as flagship improvements in iOS v5. In fact, the first two features listed on the iOS 5 page were features that already existed in Android and Blackberry OS, respectively.

Nothing today is constructed in a vacuum. We constantly see what others are doing and not doing and use those insights as opportunities to improve, and in response others build off of and improve upon what we have done. That's the nature of innovation, and that's a good thing.

If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

~ Isaac Newton