Feature Article

August 09, 2012

Samsung's Mobile Head Needs to Hang in Shame�or Infamy - But it WILL Still Dominate the Android Market

Back in the late 1980s, when Apple first introduced its Lisa, and a short time later its original Macintosh, there was certainly some noise in the technology wires about both the Lisa and Macintosh being based on Xerox Parc technology. From an intellectual perspective, there was some cause for that argument to be made then – and there was much truth in it.

However, Xerox Parc did not compete with Apple in the marketplace, and in fact had similar technology in the labs but saw no potential for it aside of its labs, and especially not for a consumer market. At the time, Steve Jobs had done nothing more than to clearly understand that a mouse-graphical user interface computer with overlapping windows would prove to be an enormously successful leap in personal computer technology, and directed Apple to take the general concepts from Xerox Parc and to push forward with real products.

Microsoft of course was in turn substantially beaten to the punch – and was hard pressed to compete early on. In fact the original first version of Windows had no overlapping windows in order to avoid a direct confrontation with Apple. Non-overlapping windows however were useless, as Windows 1 clearly demonstrated with its awful user interface and user experience (some of us have witnessed this stuff first hand – we know what those early machines were like).

Windows 2 eventually emerged with its own overlapping windows – and back then the expected lawsuits ended up with the conclusion that there really wasn’t an alternative to using overlapping windows, and that the idea couldn’t really be protected through patents. Fair enough.

For years Microsoft tried to get the better of Apple, but the Mac’s interface always won. Even when Apple’s fortunes were at their most dire in the 1990s (just before Jobs returned to rule) the interface still won. It was not until the emergence of Windows 2000-era PCs that Windows finally began to get closer to Apple UI performance. In any case, the bottom line here is that from the historical trace back to Xerox Parc and forward to even today’s iterations of the Mac and Windows interfaces, there has always been close competition, but there has never been any direct copying. (Apple fanboys and Microsoft haters ill of course suggest that Microsoft does not do anything other than copy stuff…so be it, let them have their arguments).

Common Sense Says…

That was a bit of a long road to getting around to our actual topic – that being our conclusion that Samsung did in fact rip off Apple. No amount of legal one-upmanship from either legal team will trump simple common sense. The original Samsung Galaxy (to the right), and subsequently the Samsung Tab, clearly ripped off the original Apple iPhone (to the left, below) and iPad designs. We’ve been following the trial since it began, and there haven’t been any earth-shattering developments – for the most part it’s all gone as expected, and the conclusion appears obvious to us. 

Meanwhile, there have only been two things worthy of a sideshow: first, there was Samsung’s sending out to the media photos and details of information that had been excluded as trial evidence by the trial judge Lucy Koh; second there were all the interesting bits of insights on Apple designs, Apple’s development processes, and other very interesting and formerly secret information. Through it all not a single bit of evidence has emerged to show that Samsung did not willfully and blatantly copy the original Apple iPhone and iPad designs. None, whatsoever.

Trial evidence Apple has shown has, in our opinion, been of the persuasive sort. There is no dispute that Apple specifically told Samsung that it needed to cease copying its designs, and no dispute that Samsung ignored this; there is no disputing that Samsung found the iPhone to be better than its own designs in just about every way possible during internal competitive analysis – but rather than “innovating” and finding ways to better Apple, Samsung instead took the expeditious route of simply copying the iPhone completely. 

The difference between Apple taking Xerox Parc’s ideas and turning them into consumer products, and Samsung taking Apple’s ideas is that Samsung and Apple actually compete head on – a huge difference.

That Samsung totally copied Apple isn’t completely true – Samsung did much to entirely copy the obvious pieces of the iPhone – the hardware look, the software icon look, the general behavior of the entire first level of iPhone access is all repeated in the original Galaxy. When the original Samsung Galaxy first appeared, our own informal testing of the device made this clear.

However, beyond initial look and feel impressions, deeper layers of user interactions demonstrated just as clearly that the Galaxy was no iPhone – its overall lack of polish (as well as Android’s own early shortcomings) quickly becomes evident, but for average consumers there was plenty of similarity to either fool potential buyers into thinking they were getting an iPhone or at the least that they were getting an equivalent though cheaper version of the actual iPhone.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery, However…

We are very aware of many of Samsung’s pre-iPhone designs (many of them similar to BlackBerry and Nokia devices of that era). The Samsung Impression was an early touch screen device and one that had no polish to it what so ever, but it was also deeply rooted in old mobile phone design frameworks. Our own belief is that Samsung was caught entirely flat-footed by the iPhone (as were all the other mobile device giants).

To its significant credit however, rather than do as Nokia, BlackBerry and Motorola did, which was to dig in with their established perspectives and ignore the iPhone as a real threat, Samsung immediately saw the huge dangers and moved quickly to adapt to a new world order. This is the key reason that today Samsung owns most of the mobile market outside of Apple, while the rest of the old school flounders.

That said, Samsung cheated and took the ultimate shortcuts to get itself in the iPhone race. No doubt it was a calculated effort – but let’s consider the following scenario.

Let’s hypothetically say that Samsung loses the patent lawsuit. What happens then? There are appeals to be had but likely Samsung won’t win on appeal – at best it can stretch out the processes leading to the same eventual conclusions. It can come around to settling with Apple, possibly even before the current trial ends.

A settlement is likely Samsung’s best outcome – in many ways it would be useful to do so if it becomes clear that the current trial won’t go its way. Other lawsuits that are also in the works between the two would probably be swept into any settlement, moving both Apple and Samsung beyond them.

The kicker though, is that even if Samsung ultimately has to shell out some billions to Apple, at the end of the day it won’t lose its current dominance – or its now huge revenue streams - over the rest of the Android market. That won’t go away. Samsung’s gamble to get itself quickly into the iPhone race by cheating still pays off handsomely in the long term, even if Apple manages to shave a few billion dollars off for itself. No doubt any settlement will give Apple ironclad assurances that the short cut strategy won’t happen again, so Apple also wins from its end.

Apple innovated – and Samsung was extremely smart in seeing this to be a major game changer. It’s no different than Microsoft’s realization that the Macintosh and Lisa were also game changing innovations. Microsoft was more subtle in how it coped, and played a far better long term game than Apple back then. Samsung won’t outplay Apple here, and we doubt that we’ll see anything “innovative” come from it. And it will be very interesting to see how it deals with Apple’s next generation of innovation, assuming of course that Apple delivers any such thing.

Samsung will have to hang its head in shame – for a bit. But ultimately a loss is as good as a win. Should we proved wrong and Samsung somehow wins the case – well, imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery – Apple can’t take that to the bank, but we will all still know Samsung copied the iPhone.

The long-term gamble has paid off on a global scale either way for Samsung, and will continue to do so.

Want to learn more about today’s powerful mobile Internet ecosystem? Then be sure to attend the Mobility Tech Conference & Expo, collocated with ITEXPO West 2012 taking place Oct. 2-5 2012, in Austin, TX. Co-sponsored by TMC Partner Crossfire Media the Mobility Tech Conference & Expo provides unmatched networking opportunities and a robust conference program representing the mobile ecosystem. The conference not only brings together the best and brightest in the wireless industry, it actually spans the communications and technology industry. For more information on registering for the Mobility Tech Conference & Expo click here.

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Edited by Braden Becker

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