With the release of the iPhone 3GS, it’s got me thinking more about Apple and IP again, especially as my neighbour down the hall at ipVA towers just acquired a new iPhone and I helped him get it set up. As you’ve no doubt figured out, I’m a big Apple and iPhone fan, which is why I often use Apple as an example when discussing IP / business strategies. This article awhile back from InfoWorld “Why BlackBerry still beats iPhone for business users” sums up the iPhone strategy nicely:
The reason the iPhone has been a success is as much about it being part of a computing environment and ecosystem as it is the phone itself. There are things that make the iPhone so difficult to compete with.
IP plays a significant role in putting together and protecting Apple’s role within the iPhone product ecosystem. Consider:
- The iPhone requires users download and install iTunes – Apple’s copyrighted software – to manage the device;
- iTunes has its own store and numerous content deals (based on copyright) that allow for iPhone users to access the movies, TV shows, and music in the store on the device;
- Users are restricted by carrier unless they pay full price for the device and unlock it to work with other systems;
- New apps (unless your phone is “jailbroken”) come via the iTunes store, and Apple controls what goes into the store through its agreements with developers;
- Technological measures make it hard for you to unlock or jailbreak your phone to get apps from other than the iTunes store. These technological measures not only are digital locks that can be difficult as a practical matter to go around, but can also be protected through civil and criminal law; and
- Certain features only (AFAIK) work only with other Apple products, such as the “locate my phone” feature which can tell you where your phone is if lost or stolen but requires you to have a MobileMe account.
Apple exudes a sort of paternalism over their ecosystem as well – as in they say things like “we make sure bad apps that do bad things with your data don’t get through”. It reminds me a bit of AOL in the early days – it had no spam problem because all communication on AOL was between AOL users. AOL policed their walled garden well, but eventually had to open it up to the rest of the world and engage in the same kind of anti-spam tactics as everyone else. Building this kind of ecosystem seems pretty linked to providing some other kind of advantage to the user as well (rather than just locking them in), which in the iPhone case is sold as security, reliability, and better integration with other products.
I wonder if in the face of other OS systems such as Android, how long the full iPhone ecosystem can last. But certainly they’ve made a very formidable ring fence around the iPhone by building such a robust ecosystem.