Friday Night Fights: Is Samsung Really Copying Apple? [Feature]

Laaaaaaaaaaadies and Gentlemen, welcome to Friday Night Fights, a new series of weekly deathmatches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?

This week’s topic is one personal to both iOS and Android fans alike: is Samsung really copying Apple’s designs for its Galaxy series of Android smartphones and tablets? Samsung and Apple are brawling it out on pretty much every continent on Earth trying to get to the bottom of this issue, so it’s only fitting that we try to settle this one in the ring too.

In one corner, we have the 900 pound gorilla, Cult of Mac; in the opposite corner, wearing the green trunks, we have the plucky upstart, Cult of Android!

Place your bets, gentlemen! This is going be a bloody one.

Vincent Messina, Cult of Android

We’re all well aware of the past year’s ominous patent battle between Apple and Samsung. Apple claims Samsung has infringed upon numerous patents and that they are simply protecting their intellectual property (something I find ironic, considering Samsung manufacturers 26% of Apple’s iPhone components). While patent laws are an entirely other debate, I’d like to take a moment to give my opinion on whether or not Samsung has been “copying” Apple.

Okay, so is Samsung “copying” Apple? I’d have to say yes, and no. I believe Apple’s claims of Samsung “copying” their design because they sell rectangular phones with rounded corners to be absurd. The fact that they appear to believe they invented the black rectangle is also beyond comprehension. To me the whole thing wreaks of Apple’s inability to further its own innovation and is a feeble attempt to squash anyone who does. As for Samsung, while inspiration, and developing products based off of a successful model, are common practice and to be expected, they could have tried a little harder to differentiate themselves from Apple (which could have been accomplished with a few subtle and easy changes).

As a tech lover, it breaks my heart to see such attacks on progress, choice and innovation. Apparently Apple believes no other company, person, or entity should be allowed to further use, produce, or improve upon their patented black rectangle with rounded edges. Sometimes a design comes along that just works and it becomes the inspiration for further innovation and development. Take the telephone for instance: 99% of all fixed phones are similarly designed. A long portrait designed piece of hardware with an earpiece on the top and microphone on the bottom. Each phone has similar square/rectangular buttons with the numbers 0-9 and a digital screen for viewing called numbers and information. They are designed this way because it works, it’s comfortable and functional. Should we not allow companies to manufacture these phones in a similar fashion because we may not be able to differentiate them from one another? Should every manufacturer be required to design an entirely new body and framework for the basic phone? Maybe Uniden should only be able to produce triangle phones, while AT&T must produce oval shaped phones with the earpiece on the bottom and microphone on top?

This is the sort of asinine thinking that is going on right now in the world of Apple and its patent lawsuits. I think the focus should not be on whether or not these products look similar or are “copied,” but on the important legal stance of whether or not Samsung is maliciously trying to deceive consumers into thinking they are buying Apple products. I believe this is not the case, and that is why I believe this whole thing to be nothing more than Apple trying to compensate for its obvious decline of market power.

Every creation was spawned from a previous model and there’s no instance in the world of a pure invention or innovation that doesn’t get its inspiration from somewhere. Man got his inspiration to seek out flight from watching in awe as birds soared high above. The marvel of the Sistine Chapel was inspired by biblical lore, and even our precious world wide web itself was conceived by using technologies that had already existed. Should we lose out on these magnificent accomplishments simply because companies arrogantly feel that they “own” and have exclusive rights to ideas and shapes? This insidious path toward the destruction of innovation will never garner my support and is Kryptonite to the super powers of inspiration.

I can’t even begin to fathom a world where companies are forced to produce geometrically assigned products in only the colors they’ve managed to patent. I seem to recall the mobile market being flooded with manufacturers using the flip phone design, yet I can’t recall any lawsuits regarding ownership of such design (there may very well have been, I just can’t remember)? Must be an Apple thing.

So, are some of Samsung’s designs similar to Apple’s — yes (extremely similar). Does Samsung at any point in time try to deceive consumers into thinking they are selling an Apple product — no. Are there clear indications that the device is not an Apple device — yes. Can you bring a Samsung device into an Apple store for support — no. Does the receipt for my Samsung device say Apple iPhone, iTouch, iPad, or iAnything — no. Have I ever in my entire life encountered someone who thought their Samsung Android device was an Apple iPhone — no. Samsung’s products may look similar, but they are NOT Apple products and they do not attempt to portray themselves as such.

Perhaps Samsung can get out of this mess by claiming the front of their device is actually the back, thus the design is entirely different. =\

Just remember, all inventions were made using tools already invented. Take away those tools and everyone loses. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Apple should be proud of their accomplishments and relish in the fact that they have inspired entire companies and have helped form our current mobile ecosystem. Apple should quit with the antics and continue to focus on innovating and creating products people love. That’s all I’m saying, because these lawsuits aren’t going to magically produce an iPhone 5, or iPad 3 — you know, the things consumers really want from Apple.

In the end, the consumer is the one who ultimately decides what they want to purchase. Apple needs to stop thinking they can choose for them (or limit their choices) and allow the market to thrive. We all realize Apple’s incessant need for control, but it’s misguided and will ultimately lead to their demise. Apple is quickly becoming known as the company that sues everyone, and is slowly losing their once-held public perception as innovators. Samsung will continue to thrive, and if Apple wishes to do so as well, they need to get back to doing what they do best, marketing and development.

I will not pretend to know whose design was first but I do know it takes more than a couple of months to put together a working test unit, and Samsung clearly had one around the same time Apple did.

John Brownlee, Cult of Mac

To the casual observer, Apple and Samsung’s round-the-world patent and IP violation lawsuits must seem an awful lot like two spoiled Valley Girls taking their “Oh my gawd, Becky, stop copying my style!” lawsuit on an international tour. There’s a tendency to want to shake your head, to think the whole thing is just so pointless: who cares who first thought of wearing leg warmers over leggings, or plaid skirts with hooped bangles, when all teenage girls have always looked so much alike anyway, right?

But let’s try another analogy. It’s 1983, and Michael Jackson has just pulled on his iconic candy apple red leather jacket in Thriller. It’s a completely signature look, unseen by any performer before, right down to Jackson’s wet-look hairstyle, rolled-up sleeves and ankle-cut jeans. Now let’s say in 1984, Paul McCartney not only starts wearing the same jacket during all of his performances and videos, but when Michael Jackson complains, McCartney sues him, claiming he stole the Moonwalk from him.

Which is the better analogy? The latter, easily. Samsung is attempting to steal Apple’s signature, totally unique style, and having been caught red-handed, is now trying to muddy the waters by saying Apple violated patents. See the difference?

One thing everyone can generally agree upon is that most modern smartphones and tablets look roughly alike. They all have capacitive touchscreens. They generally eschew physical buttons in favor of software controls. They all run apps. They all have extensive multimedia capabilities. They all have internet connectivity. And so on. They are all, broadly speaking, minimalistic touchscreen rectangles that run apps.

At the end of the day, the issue here isn’t that the iPhone was the first smartphone to be a minimalistic touchscreen rectangle that runs apps. It absolutely was, and saying otherwise is ridiculous. But that’s not really the point, because while that is true, what Apple really did with the iPhone is put its finger on the precise pulse point of what people really wanted: a thinner, less complicated multimedia smartphone that acted as a true pocket gateway to the Internet. It’s important that Apple was first, but let’s be brutally honest here — not only can Apple not patent that idea, but a company like Samsung can’t be expected to sell smartphones that haven’t learned key lessons from Apple’s success. To do so would be letting down their customers.

So the problem here isn’t that Samsung’s devices run apps, or that they have touchscreens, or that they have a bare minimum of physical buttons, and so on. Whether Apple has patents for these things or not, Samsung can’t be expected to make smartphones in 2012 that don’t do these things. The issue is that, time and time again, Samsung has copied Apple’s style.

Not convinced? Here’s a short list of blatant swipes:

• Samsung’s homescreen icons look nearly identical to Apple’s. Every modern smartphone might need a, but not every icon must be a white telephone jauntily tilted at the exact same angle with a green background.

• Samsung is both certifying and advertising cases for their Galaxy Tab series of tablets that look exactly like the iPad 2 Smart Cover, right down to the color choices.

• Samsung is advertising the Galaxy Player using a product shot that is identical to that Apple used to advertise the original iPod touch.

• Samsung’s own Galaxy showcases prominently feature Apple icons on the walls.

• Both the inside and outside of the retail packaging to the Samsung Galaxy Tab are identical to the iPad’s.

• Samsung’s latest budget Galaxy smartphone, the Galaxy Ace, looks exactly like the iPhone 3GS.

• Samsung is hiring the same extremely identifiable actresses that Apple has previously featured in its own advertisements.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Samsung’s devices look like Apple’s. Their advertising looks like Apple’s. Their packaging looks like Apple’s. Their accessories look like Apple’s. Their software looks like Apple’s. Heck, even their USB chargers and cable connectors look like Apple’s!

Still not convinced? Even Samsung’s attorneys working on the Galaxy Tab vs. iPad lawsuit can’t tell the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab apart from a distance!

Maybe a couple of the above things are accidental, sure. But while all modern smartphones may have to be broadly iPhone-like (and all tablets iPad-like) just to succeed on the market, they do not all need to be identically advertised, branded, or accessorized, nor have software and hardware design elements that are the doppelgängers of Apple’s. And using these techniques, Samsung has built a smartphone business that is second only to Apple’s in number of devices sold.

That may be great for Samsung in the short-term, but long-term, it’s bad for everyone. It’s bad for Apple, who has to watch one of its biggest manufacturing partners steal, then degrade their unique, original style by using it on inferior devices. It’s bad for Samsung, who is trading in the long-term profits of coming up with their own cogent, equally appealing smartphone design philosophy in favor of the short-term gains of being an also-ran and iPhone clone. And it’s bad for you and me because it stagnates competition. One of the biggest device makers on Earth is just stealing all their ideas from someone else. That means that Samsung is less likely to come up with unique, revolutionary new designs that will, in turn, prod other device makers (including Apple) to new heights.

There have been plenty of great smartphones since the iPhone that haven’t tried to pretend to be iPhones or violated Apple’s IP, most recently Nokia’s first Windows Phone, the Lumia 800, a device that explores its own ideas and has a truly wiorld-class construction, interface and operating system. Samsung has a choice. Unfortunately for everyone, the choice they’ve made is the most shameless one.

Okay, that’s the bell. What do you think? Who had the stronger argument on whether or not Samsung copied Apple, and do you think anyone missed any good points? The match may be over, but we’re taking this fight to the streets, so let us know your thoughts on the subject in the comments! Nothing to say? Check back next week for our next bout!