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Why is Apple so Scared?

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There's no doubt that Apple has lead innovation in the tablet market. Before the iPad, tablets were limited to specialist business-to-business areas such as logistics and medicine. The consumer market was trying hard to forget Windows XP Tablet Edition and the breeze-block devices it ran on, while UMPC flickered and died.

But Apple's continuing action against Samsung, which led to the withdrawal of the Galaxy Tab from the IFA consumer electronics event in Berlin last week, feels like a desperate act. Apple leads the tablet market, and has an idiosyncratic approach to technology that naturally differentiates itself from rivals. Why is Apple so scared?

Its principle objections to the Galaxy Tab range, noted in its 373-page submission to the US District Court are that it is rectangular with rounded corners, has a surface that includes a screen with a black border and displays a grid of square icons.

It's true that both products share these characteristics, but then so does Motorola's Xoom, Novatech's nTablet and even the short-lived HP Touchpad. Quite what shape Apple expects rival products to take is unclear, although perhaps some nice sharp edges that slice into users' palms when holding other tablets would help the company maintain its sizeable lead in the market.

Although according to Apple's submission, it's already too late, for the company states that it "has been and will continue to be irreparably harmed and damaged by Samsung's conduct". With revenues up 90 per cent year on year at $28bn, that's laughable.

This is one of many assertions in the document that just don't add up, like Apple's statement, on page 27, that the design and packaging of the Galaxy Tab is likely to "cause confusion, ... or deceive the consumer as to the affiliation of Samsung with Apple".

What bothers me most about this is the implication that Apple believes it leads the market on style rather than substance. Some people will always be prepared to pay a premium for Apple's cosmetic appeal but they're in a minority. Apple leads the tablet market because it built an operating system that's almost perfect for the platform and focused on the user experience. This selective action against a single rival is petty, obstructive and counter to the interests of consumers. Whether it signals a loss of confidence by Apple's senior managers now that Steve Jobs has relinquished his role as CEO remains to be seen.