Yup, I’ve been following the court proceedings almost as closely as I’ve been following the Olympics. “Almost,” only because NBC isn’t broadcasting it 20 hours a day. On the plus side, if NBC were covering it, we’d be getting our news 9 hours after it actually happened.
Yesterday’s designated bombshell was an enormous and hitherto confidential PowerPoint presentation that Samsung assembled a couple of years ago. The company’s own engineers compared the iPhone to the Galaxy and point for point…yeah, they pretty much agreed with what the public was telling them.
Many folks have pointed to this document (and attendant internal quotes from Samsung, describing the need for a real “come to Jesus” moment for their smartphones) as a smoking gun. Aha! Slide after slide, comparing a different element of the iPhone and its software to the Galaxy! Prepare to line up for the spanking machine, Samsung executive board!
I’m not so sure. I’ve read most of it. A credible interpretation is that this document represents a company’s frank and unflinching evaluation of the limitations of their own products. Each slide and photo and user element is carefully annotated and scrutinized. Even though this was an internal report never intended for outside eyes, nearly every note is a smart observation. What does the user expect at this point in the interface? What’s the most important function? What are the points of confusion in the Galaxy interface? It seems as though most of these notes points out a mistake that the Galaxy’s designers made, and teaches a broader lesson that Samsung should learn, as opposed to just blandly adding another item to the “Steal This Element” list. Nearly every recommended action item seems to say “We should make our phone better,” not “We should make our phone look like the iPhone.”
Does this document point to outright theft? Fortunately, two companies (whose annual profits somewhat exceed my own) are paying lots of people (much smarter than me) to argue that one out.
Sometimes, a company blandly treats other companies and creative people as their own free product R&D division. That’s arrogant and damaging. Sometimes, an idea is just so simple and natural and obvious that nobody can credibly claim that they “invented” it. That’s arrogant and damaging, too.
Sometimes, a company looks at the competition’s work and thinks “Wow. We got smoked. Why aren’t our own products that good? What do we need to do to improve them?” As I read through this document, it’s hard for me to push that third possibility from my mind. I don’t think it’s a smoking gun at all. Just another data point, subject to interpretation.