When I told my editor what my last column of 2012 would be about, I said that I would write about how glad I was that it’s over. But my response may have been colored by the fact that I’d just been writing about the apparently endless patent wars. That’s enough to make anyone feel depressed.
In fact, the patent wars probably are endless. There are several reasons for this. First is that you can make a lot of money filing a patent that’s not valid by threatening to sue everyone for infringing on it. Many companies figure it’s cheaper to just pay up instead of fighting. So what we saw in 2012 will continue in 2013, and in the process hurt innovation, clog the courts, and prove that many in the tech business are cynical enough to see ransom as a perfectly ethical way to do business.
We’ll also see that the downturn in innovation, especially in the wireless business, has become the rule rather than the exception. Industry decision-makers don’t like change because change brings fear of the unknown. The iPhone 5, which at some point will be replaced by the iPhone 5S, which will be another minor upgrade aimed at keeping the Apple sales engine running at full speed rather than show any innovative new features.
Innovation will also die in the Android world as the combination of the patent wars and Android fragmentation take a huge toll on even minor upgrades.
So where does one find innovation? Strangely enough, I see it mostly at Microsoft. The company took a big gamble with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. The interface and the workings of the OS on both devices really were different. But Windows 8 in all forms is taking a lot of flak. The reason: it’s not an iPhone and it’s not Windows 7. Many of my colleagues in the technology press share this same deeply rooted conservatism as the companies that make other devices.
The knee jerk reaction here is that if it’s not an iPhone, it must not be good. Or, if the interface isn’t the same as what everyone is familiar with on Windows 7 or the Mac, it must not be good. In 2013 we may start to see some acceptance of the notion that the combination of a touch screen and Windows 8 is in fact a great design. But the forces of conservatism are fighting it.