Apple vs. Samsung: Influence, or Copying?

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.

36 thoughts on “Apple vs. Samsung: Influence, or Copying?

  1. Les Posen

    Isn’t this a jury trial, Andy? This sort of visual evidence can be very compelling to juries, depending on how Apple’s lawyers argue it out, and Samsung’s finds alternative explanations closer to your conclusions. Given the choice, I’d rather be in Apple’s corner! But it has to be put into context with no doubt more evidence to come… do you get the feeling Apple’s smelling blood? And one wonders if there are any Samsung whistleblowers just itching for their chance to dump on the company

  2. Tim Green

    I’ve not read the document yet, but if it only makes a comparison with the iPhone and not other smartphone OS (WebOS anyone?) then, whilst not a smoking gun, it does bear credence to the argument they were looking to mimic iOS, does it not?

  3. Tony

    There is probably a document like this in Redmond and its probably more scathing about its software design for phones. The thing is Microsoft have produced an operating system no one could mistake for ios, in fact the guaranteed winner from this contest is Microsoft, if Samsung win then they will continue to get paid for their patents used in Android and if Apple win there will be a good reason for Samsung to promote the Win Phone 8 handsets they are developing.

  4. Urkel

    If we’re talking about “copying” then clearly Samsung went overboard in trying to emulate Apple. But arent actions like that something where the Media or the Consumers call out Samsung? Samsung deserves some public ridicule for copying the iPad box and icons, but is this really illegal?

    Correct me if I’m wrong but this whole case is misguided because it shouldn’t be about copying, it should be about whether or not Apple’s patents are valid. Because it doesnt make sense that every Microwave, Bicycle, HDTV and just about every consumer product look exactly but somehow tablets and smartphones require unique individual design.

  5. Urkel

    Article Suggestion:
    Just a suggestion, but every article out there is focusing on the case right now. But what I think is monumentally important is to discuss what the world will be like if Apple actually wins. Because if Apple gets precedent then wont they be able to essentially kill any tablet on the market since the patents they are trying to enforce are so vague and tablets really can’t be built any other way than the standard look that the iPad and all its preceding/succeeding tablets gravitated towards?

  6. Chris Denny

    I got to see the presentation from Business Insider, and I agree with you, Andy, that it isn’t a smoking gun, but it’s damning enough to heavily suggest that features and styles were studied enough and then later implemented to call it a copy. Even though Samsung’s tweaked the UI, it didn’t make it different enough to an iPhone, especially from a distance.

    The slide of the phones side by side I think is enough to make anyone come to conclusion(without looking harder) to convict by word of mouth that Samsung did indeed copy Apple.

  7. Scott Hamilton

    Andy, I think your interpretation would be a bit more believable if every single page didn’t start with an image from the iPhone UI. It’s not “Here’s our interface, here why it sucks, let’s change it.” It’s “Here’s the iPhone UI, here’s how our UI is different and sucks, let’s change it to be more like the iPhone,” dozens and dozens of times.

  8. Jan Landy

    Isn’t the bigger picture, that no matter who wins this case, the public is going to pay more for the phones in order to reimburse them for their court costs?

    Technology should not be stymied by one company trying to control their profits when it will hinder progress. Where would we be today if Kool-Aid sued NASA for Tang and won?

  9. Guy McLimore

    Andy, in an ideal world I’d like to believe that Samsung was making a sincere effort to examine their phones and pinpoint what was wrong with them. But I’m afraid I can’t drag that kind of sweetness and light out of this document.

    If that were the intent, Samsung would have been able to find examples from OTHER competing phones of places where their interface was weak. They also would have looked at places where their interface was superior and said, in effect, “We need to do more of this”.

    The tone of the whole thing here, though, is “This is where our interface varies from the iPhone. The iPhone must be suprerior because it is kicking our ass. Here’s how we need to make our phones just like the iPhone.” They don;t say it that baldly, but that’s all that I find here.

    If this isn’t a smoking gun, it will do until one comes along. It would convince me beyond a “reasonable” doubt. To give Samsung the benfit ofthe doubt here, you have to stretch a LONG way.

  10. Ken Ballweg

    The real question is what actual changes did they make to their UI after the document. To look at Apple and say, this is an area where we need to do it better is very sensible in my view. If, however, they proceeded to address the needed changes by heavily emulating the iphone implementation then it’s a smoking gun.

    An analysis of Samsung’s subsequent response to this internal document, in the form of changes to their UI and the degree to which those changes are based on the referenced Apple implementations would be needed to say if this is damming.

  11. Lamar

    The document itself appears to be a comparison of the iPhone and the Galaxy. As far as I know, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m sure companies do that all the time to get an idea of how their products compare to their competitors. I would argue that, in and of itself, it’s not evidence of infringement.

    However, if it can be shown that Samsung then took action to incorporate into their product features based on this comparison, then I think Apple can make a pretty reasonable argument for infringement.


  12. Tom

    I find it really disturbing that people are choosing sides as if this was a sporting event. If the red sox beat the cardinals then life goes on. If Apple beats Samsung then they’ll forever change the way our non-Apple tablets will look.

    I’m all for rooting for Apple when it comes to nonsense like “who makes the best tablet”. but when it comes to “who collects licensing fees and gets to control every tablet that ever comes out” then I hope that NO company wins because I’m a consumer and I care about competition.

  13. Tom

    I find it really disturbing that people are choosing sides as if this was a sporting event. If the red sox beat the cardinals then life goes on. If Apple beats Samsung then they’ll forever change the way our non-Apple tablets will look.

    I’m all for rooting for Apple when it comes to nonsense like “who makes the best tablet”. but when it comes to “who collects licensing fees and gets to control every tablet that ever comes out” then I hope that NO company wins because I’m a consumer and I care about competition.

  14. Rob

    It seems to me this is just one more in a very long line of Asian companies who see a better design and make a blatant copy of it.

  15. Kevin

    It’s called reverse engineering, plain and simple. Apple paid engineers and designers to polish the iOS UI, how much time effort and dollars did that cost Apple? Samsung gets a hold of an iPhone and uses it to dramatically improve their user interface, Apple should be compensated because the devices with the new and improved interfaces aren’t being given away by Samsung. Samsung is selling them in direct competition with the iPhone the device they USED to improve their UI.

  16. Dave

    I have a feeling that Apple’s lawyers are going to walk through this thing with the jury line by line and show what Samsung did in the end. That’s when we will know the answer to your question – Influence or Copying? Some stuff they might have just copied. Other stuff they might have come to a new solution on their own. This will show how much smoke is really coming out of the gun.

  17. Adam

    Andy, your main point here is obviously correct. This memo is not a smoking gun. Probably overplayed on some blogs. Samsung’s lawyers would have to RIM-level incompetent in order to let the case come to trial after a smoking gun came out in the discovery phase. And yes, it needs to be weighed with the rest of the evidence in context. Apple’s case relies on being able to show that their patents are both valid and infringed. To counter these arguments, Samsung claims that Apple’s inventions are “obvious” and therefore not protected by patent, as well as claiming that Samsung does not infringe. You seem to be driven to criticize Apple’s logic in the suit, but how can anyone with a shred of credibility claim that Apple’s innovations are obvious when these same innovations have caused your entire company to have a “crisis of design”? If the F700 represented legitimate prior art (the piece of evidence that Samsung was willing to risk a serious breach of ethical standards to influence the jury outside of court), there could never have been a crisis of design.

    Even if Samsung comes away clean in this suit, which I believe they probably will, I don’t think anyone should be comfortable with the degree of comfort they have with mimicking and undercutting the design of other companies. Due to their advantages of scale and close relationships with carriers, no companies will be able to compete. All other Android vendors are failing to develop sustainable businesses despite critical adoration of phones like the HTC One X. Samsung losing this case is probably the best case for the Android ecosystem as a whole.

  18. Leon Speegle

    Andy, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, this article is so well written and correct (so obviously the only opinion one should take away from reading Samsung’s document) that I’m gonna copy and paste it into my own blog. Maybe spice up the headline a bit… use a larger font perhaps.

  19. romzburg

    We’ve also seen the side-by-side comparisons of several of their other phones with other market-leaders-at-that-time. It sure looks like like they put together a powerpoint presentation every time, with the final slide being “we need to do what they did”. There is no way to look at the entire body of evidence made public so far (so imagine the stuff they’ve kept hidden, or destroyed…), and look at the timelines of all their activities, and conclude anything other than that Samsung is usng Apple for R&D, same as Microsoft did. I watched Cringely’s recently released Lost Interview, and of course read the Isaacson bio, and I have watched/read pretty much everything else available on Apple/Jobs, and the one thought that has really stuck with me is this: Can you imagine the unbelievably crappy state of affairs personal computing/technology would be in without Jobs?


  20. Ricardo

    The other day I was driving down the high way and saw what I thought was a Mercedes Benz and as I got closer I didnt see the symbol or any numbers on the back. Then I thought O, the owner must have had them removed or this is a “limited edition”. Nope. Its was a Hyundai genesis. Boy was I fooled.
    Comparison of products in public, from features to schematics, to operation, cost, functionality, look and feel, and a host of others, has always been prevalent. Umm Consumer Reports? Best Buy? MicroCenter? Edmonds?
    I dont buy anything until I can clearly discern whats the best product.
    So now an internal document that a company uses to compare, contrast, evaluate and improves it’s own product to its market is a crime???? Please! There are few if any companies that dont look at there competition and see how to out do or match them.
    Apple is at the stage where there developments are mediocre and un-innovative compared to the competition. (waiting for the hate reps) They have been surpassed by Google. They release a slightly different version of the same phone every six month to sucker there users into buying it (BTW which is great!) because they have ONE phone. Now they are entering the 7inch tablet market?? WHY????? Because they themselves have looked at the competition, lost majority share and wants in on that $$ also.
    In a sense I dont blame them tho, hell they lost Windows to Microsoft.

  21. Strawman Apple Fanboy

    But Steve Jobs’s name is right in the document! They explicitly called it a “come-to-Jesus” moment!

  22. minimalist

    “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?’”

    Funny how Microsoft’s response to getting smoked looks so unlike Samsung’s. I wonder if MS didn’t get the memo about the “obviousness” of the black rectangle with rounded corners, chrome surrounds and a grid of icons that mimic iOS down to the color and symbol?

    Whether Samsung gets found guilty of infringement or not is not all that interesting to me. But as a designer myself, I don’t have a very high opinion of anybody who blatantly rips off other designer’s work. In most design circles we refer to those people as “hacks” as a mark of shame. Most designers with integrity want to do their very best work, not copy someone else’s designs. Obviously Samsung has a cynical, the-end-justifies-the-means sort of way. Which makes me think less of Samsung as a company.

  23. minimalist

    And for the record, designers are sometimes influenced by each others work. But there is a clear line that most of us recognize between “being influenced by” and outright copying. Samsung crossed it.

  24. Shiraz

    Having read through the doc, I agree that they never said ‘copy the iPhone’. Recommendations said ‘improve or find egged solution for users, etc. however when those suggested improvements ended up looking a lot like the solutions adopted by the iPhone, that’s where things go bad.

    As a designer I completely understand the need and practice of doing a comparative analysis. But I also understand when something is clearly copied. Samsung saw an opportunity and took it. It was shameless but it’s also why they’re one of the only players with a healthy bottom line so I don’t think they regret anything, nor will they even if they lose the trial. Their new products aren’t quite so blatant rippoffs and they’ e positioned themselves comfortably to continue going forward on their own for years to come.

    I do think Apple deserves to be paid out. Many argue against this saying that there can’t be much differentiation on the general design of a touchscreen. That’s simply not true. windows phone is a shining example of something that is comparable but significantly different. With a little imagination and a lot of funding the possibilities are endless. As for Apple, if I sep t years and hundreds of millions of dollars crafting something and then have everyone just freely rip off your hard work, surely you’d want justice. The most telling thing of the 132 of Samsung document for me was just how much the iPhone did right from the start. They did t have a comparative analysis to get there as nothing comparable exists. The only way they achieved such a result was through sheer hard work.

  25. Gavin

    I think the issue is certainly what actions they took after making these comparisons, but to me the bigger issue is what happened before. One has to assume that the Galaxy product they’re using to compare against the iPhone went through normal product development cycles and stage-gate reviews. All these things that they are pointing out as shortcomings vs the iPhone must have seemed ready for release in those review meetings…
    The ‘obviousness clause’ in patents is intended to be applied to the state of the art before the item being patented was known. A hallmark of good design, in any field, is that a newcomer thinks that is the obvious way to solve the problem. The fact that it wasn’t obvious until it was embodied by this item is what makes the item patentable.
    Of course, that assumes a perfect USPTO… There are plenty of patents that seem like the shouldn’t have been awarded, especially in the software realm.

  26. Dirk

    Looking at these badly designed slides I am wondering what an apple engineer’s presentation looks like.

  27. Craig in CT

    Copying has such an ‘unfair’ feeling to it. But when does it cross the line from feeling unfair to being illegal?

    Just look at the small SUV market – have a hard time telling the difference between the offerings of different car companies? I sure do. Without the symbols on the hood, many look almost the same. This is the way the world works, get over it.

  28. ex2bot

    The slides showed Samsung’s desire to copy the little white flash that happens around the play button and other controls in the Music app on the iPhone. They also wanted to copy iOS’ text input magnifying glass, Genius, Remote app, several features of the Mac/PC version of iTunes, iOS Safari’s tap at top to jump to top of web page, and ~120 other very specific UI features, many of which I wouldn’t call universal and existing elsewhere (though some were).

    I’d say look at it again. This was slavish copying of the iOS UI, period. Is it illegal? I’m no expert. But I think Andy’s trying hard to be balanced and is giving Samsung too much benefit of doubt.

  29. ex2bot

    By the way, Andy, did you all talk about this on MacBreak Weekly? It would be an interesting item.

  30. Jack

    There is no design in creating a rectangle. The Mesopotamians and or Egyptians invented the rectangle and mobile phones since there existence have been a rectangular shape. In almost every other aspect of the design the Samsung is different. The only thing they could lay claim on is the placement of the button. You would never mistake a Samsung for an iphone. Where would we be with Wide screen TVs if Apple get there way.

    I am not an apple fan. I used to be but the needless lack of comparability within their own brand worries me and feeds off pretentiousness. Haven’t enough people got iphone and when everyone has an iphone, someone somewhere is going to find surreptitious uses for it.

  31. Bill

    Andy, just heard the most recent Almanac. I can understand some of your argument, but giving this to Samsung is going too far.

    I get that a lot of people are beating their chests over Apple supposedly focusing on litigation versus continuing to innovate. I disagree with them however. Apple taking that direction might very well be a risk, but I do not believe it is so, or at least trust that Apple is really not interested in going there — certainly not as their prime focus.

    I also realize that many of the people cheering Google and Samsung against Apple are mostly people whose prime objective is making sure their access to cheap knockoffs of Apple’s products are secured, and are thus blind to the injustice these competitors are committing by their parasitic actions.

    Despite all this hyperbolic nonsense that the iPhone is in no way unique and that Apple did the same thing as Samsung and everyone else by “stealing” from those who came before them, there’s is a shallow defense. We can all remember the mobile phone market prior to Apple’s entry.  The world was full of a wide range of very dull, very frustrating and wholly inadequate designs, and Samsung was one of those copycatting every possible design it could in hopes of hitting upon a winner, even for a short-lived time. The cellphone market, until the iPhone, was described as “an intersection of hells.” (I forget by who.)  There was a broad universe of features that the incumbent cellphone manufacturers were all experimenting with, with very limited success.  All of the models described as having “prior art” to the iPhone were badly executed and few if ever were successful. None had the particular mix of features of the iPhone.

    When the iPhone arrived Apple showed us a mobile communications device that yes, cherry-picked a subset of all the myriad features available to modern handsets, added in a few of the more avant-garde ingredients, removed some of the components and ideas most people claimed were absolutly necessary for success, and developed a new recipe that no one had seen before. On top of that Apple leveraged its legendary expertise at application and interface design, its stellar operating system underpinnings, and its proven execution and manufacturing prowess to give us the incredibly successful product we see today.

    But the first reactions, particularly from the so-called pundits and the spin-meisters of the incumbent manufacturers was that the iPhone was doomed to failure precisely because it was so unlike so many of the phones that were then on the market — no physical keyboard, no stylus, touch-capacitive said to be unproven as a primary input device, etc.

    It didn’t stop them from ripping it off once they saw how successful it was becoming, despite the naysaying.

    The most egregious copycats were by Samsung itself, one of the partners Apple had chosen for the manufacturing of their product.  And then to have Eric Schmidt using insider information to help redirect Google into turning Android from a Blackberry clone to an iOS clone.  And then Samsung stabbing Apple in the back to join Google.

    I ask you this — what recourse did Apple have?  Would you suggest that Apple just turn a blind eye to the blatant stealing of all the years of investment they made in developing their products, allow just anyone to take its designs that Apple risked its own future upon, to find itself not just competing with true competition but with their own efforts turned against them by the counterfeiters?  Would you argue that Apple just continue to work and work to better the products we enjoy in consumer electronics markets while others reap the benefits and the profits through their cheap knockoffs?  Should Apple take all of the risks and expense just so the Samsungs of the world can continue to ride their coattails?

    Let’s say you agree that Samsung and others have gone a bit too far in their effort to rip Apple off — what then should Apple do? What precisely are the recourses for an American corporation to protect itself?  The only legal means they have are just that — the courts. And that means via Copyrights, Trademarks, Patents, Trade Dress and Antitrust.  My argument is that, while I am a little sympathetic to some of the arguments about patent litigation, that the system is “broken” and needs to be revised, that is not what this case is about. No, Apple has to work within the laws and procedures currently in place; it has to work with what it’s got, as imperfect as the system may be. So if Apple is filing one lawsuit after another, it does not follow that this means that Apple has given up its heritage of innovation, as some would like to claim, but as one of several concurrent paths they are taking, one of them is to protect their corporate interests as they move forward by acting through the courts.  Is there a danger that they can become too focused on litigation as a means? Sure, but I don’t see it just yet.

    No, I don’t fear a win for Apple nearly as much as I would a win for Samsung, because I remember what happened with Apple’s loss of the so-called “look-and-feel” suit against Microsoft.  That resulted in Apple being dominated by an utterly mediocre but ruthless monopoly in Redmond and a severe loss of innovation throughout the personal computing space.  Innovation as a whole was grossly retarded as a result of Apple’s investment being undermined like that, and I am certain that would be the result once again should Samsung in particular win this case.  Rewarding the blatant ripoff companies like Microsoft and Samsung only serves as a disincentive for competitors to innovate.

  32. Troy

    I sit and stare at my rectangular lcd screen in utter amazement as I ponder the brilliance of the designer who was so astute and infinitely wise to realize before any other mortal that a device designed to display text and pictures would be best shaped as a rectangle rather than a triangle, circle or dodecahedron. Just to rub my nose in it even further the savvy s.o.b even had the fortitude to place a physical button on it so I, the luddite that I am would have the ability to dim the reverent invention at will. Any company that is not looking at what the competition is doing are running the race blindfolded. I agree that Samsung have been very cheeky in regards to the similar icons and some of the physical design characteristics, but the way apple is trying to rewrite history with individual patent applications as broad and general as some are is an injustice in itself. I am a big apple fan, I both live and work in the apple ecosystem of design bliss that the company has recently created.
    In my very humble opinion I think this is apple suing google via proxy and don’t get me wrong, Samsung is no david in this biblical battle, I am sure they were fully aware this might end up costing them some day and took a calculated risk, lets face it $1.5 billion is not going to break the Samsung coffers and is probably a relatively cheap price to pay to be where they sit in the ever growing mobile market. I want the main event, I want to see Apple vs. Google…… What I want is a fixed and logical patent system. What I want most of all are great Tech devices emerging from a thriving and innovative industry.

  33. Tony Vitale

    Hi Andy
    I think if you listen to bloombergs interview of the jury foreman, he gives a pretty good explanation of how this was handled as well as some other internal docs especially the minutes of a meeting between Samsung and Google that google not only asks Samsung to change their design because it is too similar to Apples but also asks that their request be recorded into the minutes.
    Samsung ignored this request

  34. Kevin Niven

    So today Apple filed suite to ban Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note. I love apple products but I’m done! I will no longer support a company that takes this approach to try and gain back market share. We as consumers are the ones that suffer.

  35. Troy

    I am starting to feel the same way, what ever happened to build a better mouse trap. Funnily enough i read yesterday that samsung was awarded a payout from apple in some other patent related court case somewhere in asia.What a circus.

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