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About Beating Apple to the Punch

There’s something perfectly boring about hearing a statement that some company has beaten Apple to the punch by releasing a certain product or feature. But it’s not as if Apple is first to market with most of their new gear.

So the Mac wasn’t the first personal computer with a graphical user interface, and the iPod was surely not the first digital media player. But both took off; the latter launched a market that was filled with nearly useless devices. Apple managed to solve the problem of poor user interfaces and performance with a much better solution, which is the Apple way.

The iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone to market. There were others from Palm, BlackBerry and other companies that became the playthings — and often essential tools — for busy executives including potential future presidents. But the iPhone and its strictly touch interface made such gadgets warm and fuzzy for regular people. That’s why other companies quickly copied Apple’s inventions, and why there’s still a legal action involving their largest component supplier, Samsung.

I’m sure few would dispute the fact that the iPad wasn’t the first tablet by a long shot. Tablet concepts date back to the 1970s and earlier — they were featured as props on the 1980s sci-fi series, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — and Microsoft touted a tablet revolution for years. But until the iPad arrived, a device some suggested was just a warmed over iPod touch with a larger display,  this market didn’t go anywhere outside of a small corner of the business world.

And I’m sure you realize that Apple Pay isn’t the first mobile payment system, nor is Apple Watch the first smartwatch. But the former appears to be helping to jumpstart a business that hasn’t gone anywhere up till now. Guessing about the potential of Apple Watch is a non-starter since the product isn’t even shipping yet. But that won’t stop some people from suggesting it’s destined to fail. That sure sounds familiar.

Now when it comes to basics, Apple again doesn’t always arrive first with a new feature, but often makes it more usable than the competition. Consider Touch ID, Apple’s fingerprint sensor that uses technology from a company they acquired, AuthenTec. Now there have been attempts to put fingerprint sensors on smartphones in the past, and they are in use on some PC note-books. But most don’t work very well.

The fingerprint sensor technology used on the Samsung Galaxy S5 is a current example. It requires a swipe at a specific pace to work. That level of exactitude can even confound the experts who criticized the feature as being hit or miss. To some, it appears to be mostly a miss.

But this week there’s a story claiming that a new generation of fingerprint sensors is coming to PC note-books, thus beating Apple to the punch. Now this first assumes Apple wants to put a Touch ID configuration onto a Mac, and I’m not at all certain there’s much of a demand. That also assumes that the fingerprint scanning hardwire, known as SecurePad by Synaptics, will be simple to use and secure.

What the ill-informed headline writer forgot, however, is that Apple uses fingerprint technology based on AuthenTec technology, which already has been reasonably successful on iOS gear. It shouldn’t require any huge investment to add a similar capability to some MacBooks if Apple decided to give it a go. I don’t know that they do. But to assume that someone else’s technology to provide a feature already available on PC note-books is beating Apple to the punch is beside the point. That assumes Apple is in a race and that they lost, which is certainly not the case.

This all goes back to the standard run of spec comparisons that some make of Apple gear compared to the rest. In most cases, the competition will appear to win because there will inevitably be extra features. Indeed, display size was used for several years to denigrate the iPhone, even though Apple recorded great sales. Sure, Samsung may have sold more units overall, but not of any single model. That remains a fact that some members of the media won’t admit.

In any case, Apple did deliver bigger iPhones. The result has been consistent backorders and the end of any perceived advantage of any Android smartphone. All right, some Android gear also has NFC first, but whether bumping your smartphone to share stuff really matters is a huge question mark. It’s fair to say that Apple Pay represents one of the best uses for NFC.

Going forward, you can bet that many new tech products and new features will probably arrive on other platforms before Apple gets involved — if they get involved. But that doesn’t mean Apple has somehow been defeated in an imaginary war. Lest I repeat myself, that’s not how Apple plays the game.