Apple sued precisely because Samsung wasn't innovating

In the wake of Apple's legal victory over Samsung, there have been no shortage of folks lambasting the decision. One of the more common threads to emerge is that Apple's victory will stifle innovation. But the notion that Apple's victory over Samsung is in some way a hindrance to innovation is perplexing given that the impetus for Apple's suit in the first place was Samsung's conscious decision not to innovate, but rather to copy

In the wake of Apple's legal victory over Samsung, there have been no shortage of folks lambasting the decision. One of the more common threads to emerge is that Apple's victory will stifle innovation.

Indeed, Samsung's official statement following the verdict reads in part:

Today's verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer. It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices. It is unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners, or technology that is being improved every day by Samsung and other companies. Consumers have the right to choices, and they know what they are buying when they purchase Samsung products...

The notion that Apple's victory over Samsung is in some way a hindrance to innovation is perplexing given that the impetus for Apple's suit in the first place was Samsung's conscious decision not to innovate, but rather to copy. The entire crux of Apple's case was precisely that Samsung's products were devoid of innovation and were flagrant copies of Apple's own products.

People shouting that Apple's victory will stifle innovation presupposes that Samsung's products were, in fact, innovative at all.

The evidence suggests otherwise.

Over the course of the trial, Apple presented an avalanche of evidence demonstrating that Samsung's accused products copied, in a deliberate and all-encompassing manner, an inordinate number of design and UI elements from Apple's own products.

Because Apple and Samsung's 3 week long trial provided us with an endless stream of fascinating information about the inner workings of two tech titans, a lot of compelling evidence was seemingly glossed over by the media and has seemingly been forgotten in the wake of the verdict. While Samsung's asserts that this case was about giving Apple a monopoly over "rectangles with rounded corners", the reality is that this case was about how Samsung engaged in a concerted effort, emanating from the highest rungs in the company, to cherry pick a myriad of iOS features Apple worked hard to develop instead of, yes, engaging in any innovation on their own.

In a recent interview with CNET, juror Manuel Ilagan explained some of the thought process behind the jury's verdict which found Samsung's products to be infringing.

Well, there were several. The e-mails that went back and forth from Samsung execs about the Apple features that they should incorporate into their devices was pretty damning to me...

Some of the Samsung executives they presented on video [testimony] from Korea -- I thought they were dodging the questions. They didn't answer one of them. They didn't help their cause

Meanwhile, jury foreman Velvin Hogan added that the aforementioned video testimony from Samsung's top executives made it rather obvious to them that Samsung's infringement was deliberate.

And again, the evidence Apple presented at trial speaks volumes.

One of the most damning pieces of evidence Apple introduced at trial was a 132 page presentation from Samsung's product engineering team wherein they go through an breathtaking number of iPhone features and explain how Samsung can improve their own smartphones by emulating them.

The presentation covers all aspects of the user experience, from how one goes about setting an alarm, to the way the notepad app looks and behaves, to how device syncing should work, the browsing experience, the calling experience, music playback, search, voice recordings, maps, the camera, all of the granular UI touches/animations Apple adds and more.  For each feature, Samsung looked at what Apple's iPhone did right and concluded with a "directions for improvement" guideline based on Apple's own implementations.

Below is just a sampling of some of the iPhone features Samsung specifically looked at with the intent of improving their own interface. Some features were copied part and parcel into a number of accused Samsung products. 

  • The layout of the iPhone's calendar app
  • The layout of the "Add to Bookmark" screen while browsing the web
  • The size of the bottom menu bar when browsing the web in landscape mode
  • The size and spacing of letters on the onscreen keyboard
  • The inclusion of a toggle button on the keyboard to switch between languages quickly
  • Making the date on the calendar app icon dynamic as to reflect the current day
  • The ability to add cities to Samsung's weather app
  • The ability, when attempting to email a video, to trim it if the file size is too large
  • The manner in which letters "pop up" on the screen when a user is using the on-screen keyboard
  • The ability to tap on a URL or phone number from within an app to call up the Email or Dialer app
  • Including a permanent alphabetical search bar on the right hand side of the contacts menu so that users can flip through contacts more efficiently. Also applies to the Music app when searching for artists and songs
  • The size of the "End Call" button
  • More intuitive icons to differentiate between taking photos and video while in the camera app
  • Adding visual effects when email is deleted
  • Adding a visual cue to the battery bar to let users know when it's being charged
  • How "in progress" downloads from the App Store appear on a user's phone
  • Double tap to zoom in on a webpage
  • Adding landscape mode to the Calculator
  • Make icons similar to Apple's via light effects, softer hues
  • Adding visual effects when deleting a Note, and when attaching a photo attachement to an email
  • The interface for deleting messages
  • The ability, while browsing, to tap the screen at a specified location and move to the top of the page
  • The use of a "+" icon used to indicate "Add to Bookmarks"

Samsung sure spent a lot of time analyzing Apple's iPhone, a curious fact given how "obvious" these features are. Of course the reality is that these features only seem obvious in hindsight, after Apple put in a tremendous amount of work to come up with a revolutionary UI.

But as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. So here are some slides from the presentation which underscore the extent of Samsung's "innovation."

Here Samsung notes the benefits of how Apple chose to implement the spacing on its virtual keyboard.

Making their icons more like Apple's

Adding a dynamic calendar icon.

The double tap to zoom feature was one of the patents Apple ultimately asserted against Samsung. A number of accused Samsung products were found to be infringing in this regard.

A look at how Apple's iOS enables users to quickly bring up the music player when the display is turned off.

Again, this case wasn't about rounded rectangles, it was about Samsung's decision to look at a plethora of features developed by Apple and incorporate them into their own products. Samsung didn't look to Apple's products for inspiration, but rather as a blueprint.

What's more, even the icons Samsung chose to use on its smartphones seemed to be heavily inspired by what Apple had already done.

And sure, one can argue that there are only so many ways to depict a telephone icon, but the color scheme and use of gradient Samsung chose on a number of its products can't help but seem suspicious. It's also worth mentioning some deposition testimony on icon design from Scott Forstall

And it's funny, because when you ask -- designing an icon is very difficult and by the time you get to something that is good, you've gone through many iterations. But when you see it, it seems - you know, people think it's obvious. Of course that's what the icon would look like, but it's not obvious until you're done with it and you've created it.

And things get even more suspicious when you take a look at Samsung's decision to use a flower to indicate their photos app.

Forstall comments:

There were a set of several things that we saw them copy to the iPhones. And I think at some point they even like -- our photo is a flower, and I think they put a flower on to be their photos icon. It's a photo. It could be a photo of anything in the whold world, and it was stunning that a flower was chosen because we went through all kinds of different photos to pick that one.


And for the music icon, Samsung went with a design that looks a whole lot like an old school Apple iTunes logo. Also, a curious and "coincidental" choice on Samsung's part to use an icon of a CD on a smartphone. Also note the same choice in purple shading.

When you take a step back and look at all of ways in which Samsung's designs seem to be Apple-influenced, a clear and deliberate pattern of copying seems to emerge.

Google warned Samsung 

Compounding matters is that Samsung was well aware of how closely their products were to Apple's. Indeed, even Google noticed how Apple-esque Samsung's products were becoming and warned them back in 2010 that their tablets were "too similar" to the iPad and that they should institute a "distinguishable design" going forward.

And as for the Galaxy S, the product that first attracted Apple's attention, Apple noted the following in one of its many court filings:

  • In 2011, Samsung’s own Product Design Group noted that it is “regrettable” that the Galaxy S “looks similar” to older iPhone models.
  • As part of a formal, Samsung-sponsored evaluation, famous designers warned Samsung that the Galaxy S “looked like it copied the iPhone too much,” and that “innovation is needed.” The designers explained that the appearance of the Galaxy S “[c]losely resembles the iPhone shape so as to have no distinguishable elements,” and “[a]ll you have to do is cover up the Samsung logo and it’s difficult to find anything different from the iPhone.”

Is this really the innovation people are worried Apple will be preventing?

What's more, you might remember an internal Samsung email introduced at trial showcasing Samsung's realization that they need to start paying more attention to what Apple's doing with the iPhone.

Influential figures outside the company come across the iPhone, and they point out that ‘Samsung is dozing off.’ All this time we’ve been paying all our attention to Nokia, and concentrated our efforts on things like Folder, Bar, Slide. Yet when our UX is compared to the unexpected competitor Apple’s iPhone, the difference is truly that of Heaven and Earth. It’s a crisis of design.

Indeed, a number of documents unearthed during the trial underscore Samsung's growing obsession with taking on Apple.

The Verge wrote back in July:

By late 2011, however, it becomes clear that Samsung is not only interested in competitive research, but was formulating a specific strategy targeted specifically at Apple. "Goal of next year - BEAT APPLE," read one September, 2011 memo. As early as June of 2011, we found references to a "Beat Apple strategy." According to the documents, the goal was to "Go Head-To-Head with Apple" in multiple price segments and in multiple regions. By February of 2012, Samsung honed its focus on beating Apple to a finer edge, with one document dismissing other phone manufacturers and declaring that the "three horse race [is] becoming a two horse race between Apple and Samsung." The question that will likely face the court is this: did Samsung's competitive analysis cross the line into copying Apple's products?

The jury, in rendering their verdict, found that Samsung's competitive analysis did, in fact, cross the line into copying.

While each asserted patent by itself may seem like no big deal - inertial scrolling, tap to zoom, the form factor of the devices, the layout of the icons, the appearance of the icons themselves etc. - when you put it all together it does become a big deal. Apple spent years developing the iPhone and Samsung spent much less time implementing the fruits of Apple's labor onto their own devices.

Take a step back and try and pick out which photo resembles an iPhone. Truth be told, they nearly all do.

Now one can argue about the merits of the US Patent system and whether or not certain types of software should be patentable and enforceable, but to argue that Apple is putting a damper on Samsung's efforts to innovate flies in the face of reality.

Further, even Google acknowledged in a press release this morning that most of Apple's asserted patents "don't relate to the core Android operating system." That said, the notion that non-Apple smartphones will have to revert back to the stone age of mobile computing because of Apple's legal team is preposterous.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)