A piece on political news site Politico suggests that Apple’s position of trying to remain aloof from political lobbying and defending lawsuits on principle rather than pragmatism may now be proving a luxury it can no longer afford.
The company marches to its own iTunes, spending little on lobbying, rarely joining trade associations and, in a pattern that’s become more pronounced this summer, refusing to negotiate or settle in many lawsuits.
Experts say Apple’s tried-and-true approach is starting to backfire, as the company has already taken at least one big hit in a high-profile e-books trial …
Apple was the only one of the six defendants in the ebook price-fixing case not to settle – and the result looks likely to be a costly one. Both Apple and Samsung have refused to settle many of their extensive patent battles, despite courts urging them to do so. Only days ago, Apple’s continued U.S. sales of iPhone 4s and 3G iPad 2s were saved only by a Presidential veto …
The company has taken a similar approach to Washington.
“They were asked many times to come to the Hill and have a conversation, they were asked to testify at hearings — and they wouldn’t even return phone calls,” recalled Christal Sheppard, chief counsel for patent and trademarks for the House Judiciary Committee until 2010. “It proved to be impossible to get them to come to the Hill to testify.”
It’s a tough dilemma for Apple. Perhaps the single greatest key to the company’s success is that it has been willing to stick avidly to its own beliefs about what is right and wrong, and ignore what anyone else thinks. It makes what many of us think are among the best products in the world precisely because it refuses to compromise its principles, even when the results are expensive.
But what works for Apple may work less well for AAPL: an approach which is famously successful for product design may not be the best approach in the less rarified environments of politics and the legal system. Steve Jobs once vowed to destroy Android, even if it meant spending “every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank.” It was an attitude that seemed rather less constructive than fighting tooth-and-nail to sweat every last detail in a user interface to create the perfect user experience.
Tim Cook is a very different personality. One can’t imagine him vowing to “destroy” a rival platform, far less spending all of Apple’s cash reserves to attempt it. But for all the differences between the two men, Cook does seem to share the view that Apple can remain aloof from the grubby business of politics and pragmatism. Apple has continued to spend less on lobbying than many of its far smaller rivals, and is famous for fighting legal battles to the bitter end.
We don’t yet know whether the DOJ’s proposed remedy in the ebook case will be accepted, but it seems pretty indisputable that – the slim possibility of a successful appeal aside – Apple’s position will be significantly worse than if it had followed the example of the publishers and settled the case.
Another of Apple’s famous principles is to do very few things very well. The company’s belief is that to be the best in the world at what you do, you can’t allow yourself to be distracted. Where products are concerned, that means turning away from all the things you choose not to do. But if AAPL the company wants to be free from legal and political distractions, perhaps spending a little more time on compromise and pragmatism might ultimately prove the more effective strategy.