Sunday, October 5, 2008

Apple stealing ideas from iPhone developers

from 19 September 2008 @ 4pm in Opinion, News Apple sparked controversy in mid-2004 when it demonstrated Dashboard, a feature included with Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), which shipped the following year. Dashboard delivered always-on, mini-applications in the form of "widgets" that could be quickly accessed via a keyboard command or other invocation. Such functionality has since been implemented in Windows Vista and elsewhere, but at the time, it was the domain of of a tool called Konfabulator. Dashboard's feature set and operation were so similar to Konfabulator's that some developers and users cried infringement. If recently filed patents materialize as actual software, Apple may spark similar contention with a forthcoming iPhone update. As expounded by MacRumors, a recent Apple patent application calls for an "At a Glance" notification screen that would show calls, SMS, Voicemail, and possibly other data - in detail - on the iPhone's unlocked home screen. The planned functionality, as depicted in the patent application, bears striking resemblance to an extant iPhone application, dubbed IntelliScreen, which is available exclusively for jailbroken iPhones. Jonathan Zdziarski, author of the book iPhone Open Application Development and developer of the popular NES emulator for jailbroken iPhones, is among the developers already charging Apple with feature-theft. He says "Apple appears to be using ideas from commercial software already being sold and attempting to patent the concepts as their own. Apple has recently filed a patent application for a notification screen on the iPhone. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this is a clear rip-off of the commercial Intelliscreen product. The case here isn't a simple hijacking of an idea however - Apple is attempting to patent Intelliscreen's concept, which could be detrimental to the original manufacturer of the software, who is actively selling it for Jailbroken iPhones. This raises some serious questions about whether Apple is being unlawfully anti-competitive: by policy, they have banned Intelliscreen from being sold on the AppStore, so the original manufacturer has to sell it on their own." Zdziarksi's commentary is, to some extent, hyperbole. Apple already uses a locked-screen notification scheme, showing the names of callers and text message senders, but no further detail. The new patent describes direct interaction with locked-screen notifications (calling listed contacts, responding to listed text messages, etc.); IntelliScreen offers this functionality in robust fashion. In fact, IntelliScreen lets users view, read and delete emails and SMS messages directly from the locked screen. Still, one might reasonably call Apple's proposed changes (perhaps third-party-inspired) feature expansion rather than feature theft. Muddling the issue, however, are Apple's strong-arm tactics to prevent iPhone developers from duplicating its own functionality in their applications. Per our sister site, Apple rejected Podcaster - an iPhone application that lets people download podcasts directly to their devices without going through iTunes - from the App Store. The developer of the application said that Apple told him the application "duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes", apparently making it unfit for the App Store. As such, a fairly creepy precedent could emerge: Apple is free to duplicate functionality created by third-party iPhone developers, while said developers are explicitly banned from duplicating Apple's. Thoughts? Post to the comment section below

Is Mickey Mouse evil?

In many IP circles, Disney is viewed as evil for their successes in getting copyright term extensions. One [false] rumor is that Disney wants to tie copyright term to the proton decay rate (which is ten to the zillion years). One true statement reflecting another form of idiocy is a statement last week from a Sunni cleric in Saudia Arabia announced that children should not be allowed to watch Mickey Mouse, labeling the cartoon character a "soldier of Satan" who should be killed.