Earlier this year I had the privilege of being interviewed by MacDirectory. The interview was published and on newsstands in the U.S. in May. The cover, as you could see, is very cool and the theme of their issue was in sync with the interview. As MacDirectory is no longer distributed outside of the U.S., Patently Apple was given permission to post MacDirectory's interview in its entirety. I hope that you'll enjoy reading it. Special thanks go out to Justin Ashley and Markin Abras for making it happen. Cheers!
Jack Purcher of Patently Apple >
Capturing Apple's Spirit of Invention
Interview by Markin Abras
Through his popular and influential blog, Patently Apple, Jack Purcher offers continuous news on the latest offerings from Apple. Just this spring, Purcher has reported on Apple's new fitness center app, its trademark filing for a new FaceTime for Mac" icon and patents for its new iconic click wheel and iPhone gesturing. In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with MacDirectory, Purcher now offers up his thoughts on a whole range of topics, from Apple's patent history and what was behind the creation of Patently Apple to the company's different approach to innovation and how its innovation changed over the years.
MacDirectory > Does Apple have a successful patent history? If yes, why do you think that is?
Jack Purcher > If you define Apple's patent history success by the measure of how many granted patents Apple actually receives annually, then yes, Apple is very successful. In fact you'd have to consider them one of the top patent machines in the world today. You only have to check out our site's Granted Patent Archives to get a taste of that success for yourself. And – we only carry about 60 percent of Apple's granted patents.
Every great new product that Apple brings to market is patented in every conceivable way. Steve Jobs made that very point during his 2007 keynote when introducing the iPhone. At the time, he claimed that there were over 200 patents supporting the iPhone alone.
To answer the why, you'd have to go back to Steve Jobs's 2004 interview with BusinessWeek wherein he stated that he "always wanted to own and control the primary technology" in everything Apple did. That very obsession and passion, in my view, is what drives Apple to patent every single possible idea on their various short- and long- term roadmaps.
Apple's competitors have proven to be following Apple's every move at an accelerated pace. So it's understandable that Apple needs to protect its intellectual property accordingly.
MD > Tell us why you are personally passionate about Apple's innovations and why you created "PatentlyApple.com."
JP > In the early 90's, I read a book called "Inside the PowerPC Revolution." I quickly came to the realization that what Steve Jobs had accomplished with NeXTStep and then WebObjects in 1996 was what IBM and Motorola were trying to mimic with their PowerPC projects respectfully dubbed Taligent and TalOS. They were truly trying to mirror NeXT's breakthroughs in object-based technologies.
When Apple was financially on the ropes in 1996, they were looking to acquire Be Inc.'s BeOS to help them get to the next level, as Apple's Copland OS project (Mac OS 8) was dying on the vine. Ninety-something percent of the Mac community at the time wanted the BeOS and three percent wanted NeXTStep. I was in the three percent because I understood the vision that was behind the PowerPC Revolution and that NeXTStep was the right fit, as I've outlined above.
After some time, the vision began to unfold into OS X with WebObjects being geared for Apple's future iServices like the iTunes Store and MobileMe. Concurrently, Apple introduced their famous "Think Different" campaign that really struck a chord with me and I suppose anyone who has ever had to fight the establishment, their boss, their co-workers and/or competition to get things done. It was a classic underdog's theme song: A call to arms if you will.
At the time, most people just didn't get the coming revolution. They were in a Mac comfort zone and talking about anything outside of the Mac was seen to be heretical. In some ways, it reminded me of the Pink Floyd tune "Comfortably Numb." Being an Apple shareholder at the time, I wasn't seeing anyone writing about where Apple could be going with the acquisition of NeXT's technology. All I was reading about was rumors. Most in the business community would just roll their eyes at the mere mention of the Mac blogosphere.
So I rolled up my sleeves and wrote a series called the "Next Wave of the Internet" in an effort to describe what I felt was coming. But without proof, it was like a caveman's drawings on a wall. I then began looking into Apple patents as a means to get proof of what Apple was working on and the rest is history. While patents don't guarantee that an idea will come to market, they certainly provide you with a sense of what Apple is researching. Many ideas have come to market like the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and various upgrade features like the iPhone's camera, etc.
At the end of the day, Apple patents have proven to be a great means of initiating conversation in the community about future ideas, products and services that Apple could be bringing to market. These patents are an indication of where Apple's engineers were at a particular point in time. This isn't dreamland stuff that I dream up; it's from the minds of Apple's own engineers who get paid to document the research that they're actually working on.
It doesn't mean that everything these engineers are working on will come to market "shortly." Some patents have come to market quickly, like the video camera in the iPod touch. Some patents actually roll out shortly after the fact, like the new touch-based iPod nano. Others, on the other hand, like those associated with the original iPhone could go as far back as 2001 – but they still came to market. Patents are intellectual property and take time to work their way through the system. Some of Apple's patents may take another five years to see the light of day. Maybe only aspects of a great patent will come to be and others will simply stay in Apple's vault for legal cases or for the history books. Yet being able to discover these great ideas every week is both a blast and a privilege to share with the community. For the record, I'm no longer an Apple shareholder.
MD > Why do you think Apple imagines, explores and creates products differently than other tech companies?
JP > I'm not sure that they do on a technical level. The difference is that Apple has an inspired leader and CEO who, for decades, has had a real vision of where technology should go. He wasn't the CEO of Pepsi or a big Harvard man with the right smile and credentials. This was a different kind of guy who had to work harder than those with the right credentials. And out of that struggle, a depth of passion is forged which you can't buy in a store or learn in a book. Mr. Jobs instills passion in others, though I'm sure if you worked for him, you might not always appreciate the temperament that comes along with that type of perfectionist personality. With that said, it's that drive and perfectionist viewpoint that keeps his team in check and focused – like no other.
The bottom line is that the Man at the Top has to have a real passion and proven track record in his field to be respected by those he leads. That inspiration comes through Apple's VPs, from Jonathan Ive to Scott Forstall to Phil Schiller and even down to the slow talking yet articulate Tim Cook. Passion like that not only filters down to Apple's employees but also out to the public. Ho hum slop is what we're used to in tech products so it's always a pleasure to see something inspiring emerge. That's what Steve Jobs pushes for. Not just a product, but a product that's inspirational. And, in the bigger picture, all of these little pieces that Apple drove to market had themes like iLife and the digital lifestyle. This is masterful multi-Level strategic thinking like moves played out in a 3D-chessboard. Who else has been so consistent in delivering inspirational and practical products this decade in the PC space? I rest my case.
MD > In your view, how has Apple's innovations changed over the years?
JP > I think that could be answered in a number of ways and so I'll just pick one to be brief. Instead of a monolithic operating system like Apple's earlier systems, Steve Jobs was early into WebObjects. Out of that mentality you gain an appreciation for the concept of breaking tech into smaller bite-size pieces. Apple pushed for thinner and slicker designs at first during their transition and then moved to the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. It's a trend that is likely to continue for some time. Devices like these have no legacy and so Apple is able to create addictive "first experiences" that are known as "sticky marketing".
In 1996, Steve Jobs was interviewed by Fortune magazine and stated the following: "If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it's worth — and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over: Done. Microsoft won a long time ago." Now that he is running Apple, he's living up to his every word, to the letter.
MD > If you were to spend a day with Steve Jobs, what would you ask or talk about?
JP > If Walt Mossberg can't get anything of value out of Steve Jobs, I think my efforts would be rather futile. He's not exactly a fan of bloggers of any kind, anyways. The man who doesn't have a degree himself only wants to be interviewed by the mainstream press – even though Apple's minions of bloggers have done more to promote Apple's passion than all of the mainstream press put together.
With that said, in fantasyland, I'd like to understand his resistance to delivering a real TV to market. That crazy little box is never going to go beyond the Mac Cult. Apple's patents on this front are many and so I keep the faith because some interesting things are discussed. On a second front I'd like to know more about why Apple can't deliver a cool in-vehicle stereo that's an iPod and iPhone all-in-one, hands free, with a workable UI. On both fronts, I fully understand that there's some politics involved and Apple doesn't like other peoples' rules. But surely something could be worked out. At the end of the day, I'm not holding my breath on either front (said smilingly).
MD > In your view, which Apple product is the most innovative and why?
JP > I know the politically correct answer is the Mac and OS X, but that would be like saying that I like the light bulb. At some time you have to move on and appreciate what "New Apple" has brought to the table. I'm going to cheat here and say the iPod family. It has provided a dying industry with a burst of energy that will be with us for decades to come.
The iPod brought us the iTunes Store and for those of us who had boxes of albums, the fact that we could walk around with our entire music collection in our pocket was mind-numbing. The iPhone introduced the multi-touch interface, iApps and will be our iWallet in the coming years. The iPad is providing us with a superior reading, working and gaming mobile platform. Apple's mobile vision has turned the industry on its head and will forevermore be remembered for that.
The entire ecosystem that Apple invented goes full circle. It started with WebObjects and is pushing us to a fully commercialized form of the web in a very powerful way. You only have to go back to the 1996 Steve Jobs interview with Wired magazine called "The Next Great Thing" to see where he always wanted to go and see that he's fulfilling that vision. The iPod family of products created the demand to kick-start this revolution. That was brilliant.
MD > And which is your least favorite Apple product and why?
After not writing about 500 death "drippingly" boring ideas or patents about a new and improved bolt, can I really pick the one that I liked the least? No (said laughingly).
MD > If you were to advise Apple's product development team, what recommendations would you make?
JP > How does one mess with perfection, right? You can't – and NASDAQ agrees (said laughingly). But since you're twisting my arm, I'd have to say that testing new Apple products has got to go outside of their tiny inner circle. That model hasn't proven to be very successful and usually aggravates the hell out of early adopters. Then again, I guess it's the price to pay for absolute secrecy.