The new interactive textbooks Apple showcased last week are quite similar to the highly praised and innovative iPad app “Our Choice”, which of course is based on a book by Apple board member and former Presidential candidate Al Gore. And not surprisingly, Apple’s textbook creation framework is similar in nature to the easy-to-use framework developed by Push Pop Press, an iPhone development company founded by former Apple engineers Mike Matas and Kimon Tsinteris.
Facebook, oddly enough, actually acquired Push Pop Press this past August, claiming that they have no interest in getting involved with digital publishing but rather want to integrate “some of the ideas and technology behind Push Pop Press” into Facebook.
This past Friday, AppleInsider published an interesting rumor claiming that Steve Jobs had at one point met with Matas and warned him that Push Pop Press’ physics engine was built using patented Apple technology and that if Push Pop Press continued to exist in the dynamic book building sphere, they’d be risking a lawsuit from Apple. Indeed, AI claims that an ultimatum from Jobs served as the impetus behind Push Pop Press’ sale to Facebook a few months back.
A key element of the patent conflicts surrounded the “physics engine” Matas was credited with designing for the new company; Matas is listed as a contributor to a number of patents that are assigned to Apple. In many states, work created while employed by a company belongs to that company and can’t be used without permission after the employee leaves.
Over the course of 2011, while Push Pop Press developed its publishing tools and worked with Apple board member Al Gore to deliver his “Our Choice” book as a flagship example of what the new publishing platform could deliver (shown below), Apple itself was busy working on developing its textbook strategy.
Apple had already delivered its Xcode 4.0 and iAd Producer development tools in 2010, delivered last year’s new iBooks app alongside iPad 2, and was preparing to release basic EPUB support in Pages 09. But it was also deep into development of its iBooks 2.0 strategy revolving around the iBooks Author and iTunes U initiatives announced earlier today, at the heart of which were textbooks aimed at deployment on iPad.
Now this of course all sounds very dramatic: Jobs, Apple CEO and co-founder, issuing an ultimatum to an upstart and innovative company comprised of former Apple engineers.
But in-the-know Apple blogger John Gruber writes, citing his own well-established sources, that no legal threat was ever made.
The story I’ve heard is a little different, and a lot less dramatic. What a well-informed little birdie told me is that it wasn’t a legal threat over patents or technology, but rather something more like Panic’s classic story about iTunes and Audion (or maybe you more like Jobs’s hint regarding the then-upcoming iPhoto at the end of that tale). I.e. that Jobs more or less warned Push Pop Press that Apple was going in the same direction, in a big way. A competitive warning, not a legal threat.
While we have no way of knowing which version is more accurate, Gruber’s story jibes a bit more with a story we heard about Jobs and Apple’s attempt to acquire Dropbox.
According to Dropbox co-founder Drew Houston, Apple offered Dropbox $800 million but negotiations ultimately never went anywhere because Dropbox wanted to remain an independant company.
Jobs smiled warmly as he told them he was going after their market. “He said we were a feature, not a product,” says Houston. Courteously, Jobs spent the next half hour waxing on over tea about his return to Apple, and why not to trust investors, as the duo—or more accurately, Houston, who plays Penn to Ferdowsi’s mute Teller—peppered him with questions.
So yeah, take that for what it’s worth.