No, fuck that. This has got to stop.
Over the weekend there was another story about an Apple patent: Apple ‘Safe Deposit Box’ Patent Revealed Ahead of Mac OS X Lion. It’s some patent about distributed file access encryption mumbo jumbo. A story about a new Apple patent comes out every day or two. Rumor sites love writing about it because it’s concrete information coming from Apple, and they usually detail some far-flung product idea that everyone wants.
Companies patent stuff. In fact, companies patent a lot of stuff. Some patents are half-baked, some patents are very real product ideas. But this religious devotion to Apple’s patents has got to stop. Everything gets written about. There’s entire sites devoted just to Apple patents. Endless discussion.
For a company whose devotees so proudly proclaim that Apple always ships real product rather than peddle vaporware, the amount of significance placed on patents is baffling. These are possible ideas, possible approaches. Nothing is concrete, and even if the general idea is interesting, Apple will certainly change the UI, physical design, or ultimate approach to the solution.
A lot of what Apple does isn’t rocket science. Apple is past the point of bringing something truly novel to market: they’re not adding data streams piped directly into your nervous system, for example. They’re at a scale where they can’t really bet the company on super-futuristic technology. Even iPhone and iPad were relative straightfoward extensions of OS X and the Mac lines.
What makes Apple novel is their approach to the mundane: how their UI is simplified, how their engineering processes are refined, how their operations and business deals are arranged. And that makes patents fairly valueless. Everyone knows they’ll have a cloud-based streaming solution at some point; come up with the most boring, straightforward approach and you’re probably pretty close to what they’ll ultimately ship in the future. What will distinguish Apple will not come from anything detailed in a patent; it will come from the approach they take to those ideas.
In 2004 or so, there was a patent for Apple to embed hundreds of iSight camera lenses in-between pixels in a Cinema Display, so you could look directly at the screen and your face would be better oriented for conversation. That shit ain’t here. The “Safe Deposit Box” patent from the weekend was appearing in patents at least from 2005 and possibly earlier; that shit ain’t here. For the last decade Apple has apparently been on the precipice of delivering a flat-screen internet TV. That shit ain’t here.
All of these things may be coming, but at some point we need to realize that applying straightforward logic to Apple may derive better predictions than speculating on patents.