Apple means (almost) never having to say sorry

November 1, 2012

By Reynolds Holding
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Being Apple means (almost) never having to say you’re sorry. The tech giant apologized to customers for releasing a flawed maps application. But it bristled at a UK court order that the company publicly admit as false its accusation that Samsung Electronics had infringed on the iPad. Now the British judges are demanding strict compliance.

It’s in Apple’s DNA to resist contrition. Two years ago, for instance, its late chief executive, Steve Jobs, famously avoided apologizing for faulty signal reception on the iPhone 4 until he was specifically asked whether he was sorry. His successor Tim Cook seemed to signal a new era in September, when he issued a mea culpa to customers for glaring errors in the maps service. Cook even suggested iPhone users convert to Google Maps.

But change doesn’t come easy to Cupertino. Software head and Jobs protégé Scott Forstall, the leader of the team that designed the maps app, flat-out refused to sign the official apology. Though he paid with his job earlier this week, this culture of defiance seems to persist.

Last month, a British court of appeal affirmed Apple’s loss in a lawsuit claiming Samsung’s Galaxy tablet violated the iPad’s registered design. Echoing a lower court’s statement that the Galaxy was simply “not as cool” as the iPad, the judges ordered Apple to publicly acknowledge the defeat by running advertisements and posting a notice on its website.

Apple complied – to a degree. It created a tiny link from its homepage to a statement mentioning its loss but also citing victories in similar lawsuits against Samsung in Germany. The appellate judges were incensed. They ordered the company to remove any mention of the other suits, admit that those statements were false and put the link in a larger font. In a last bit of chutzpah, Apple said it couldn’t comply in less than 14 days. The court gave it 48 hours.

Apple and Samsung have been challenging each others’ patents and other intellectual property in scores of cases around the world. So it’s hardly surprising that Apple would play hardball after one of its few legal defeats. But if anyone had any doubt, it also appears that Cook has as little appetite for humble pie as Jobs.

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