As Apple (AAPL) prepares to launch what by all accounts will be the most successful device it has ever built — and just a few weeks after the company was awarded more than $1 billion in damages when Samsung (005930) was found to have infringed on its IP — an article penned by a former Apple executive questions exactly what Apple’s role is in the consumer electronics industry. Jean-Louis Gassee, who came very close to becoming the president of Apple in the late 1980s before being ousted by CEO John Scully and Apple’s board, claims that while Apple’s success in the industry cannot be disputed, its perception as an innovator is open to discussion.
“Apple haven’t invented anything,” was the title of Gassee’s Monday note column on The Guardian last week. In it, the former executive says that Apple is not an inventor but rather a master when it comes to taking existing ingredients and whipping up a masterpiece.
The iPad, for example, was clearly the first consumer tablet to see success on a large scale, but the concept of a consumer tablet had been around for 30 years before Apple unveiled its first iPad in 2010. Similarly, the iPhone was clearly a reimagining of the smartphone rather than a new and novel product.
Likening late Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs to a chef, Gassee argues that Apple’s true talent lies in taking existing products and concepts, and transforming them — not in inventing new products.
“The basic ingredients are the same,” Gassee writes while discussing the iPAQ as a predecessor to the iPad, “Software is all zeroes and ones, after all. The quantity and order may vary, but that’s about it. Hardware is just protons, neutrons, electrons and photons buzzing around, nothing original. Apple didn’t ‘invent’ anything, the iPad is simply their variation, their interpretation of the well-known tablet recipe.”
Gassee says that this line of thinking is myopic but technically accurate, and concludes that Jobs’s ability to take the same list of ingredients that was used to create a device and rework them to create unique new products was uncanny — regardless of whether or not Apple’s products are labeled as “inventions.”