Late Friday evening, a California jury ruled that Samsung infringed on Apple hardware and software patents—often willfully—and that Samsung owes over $1 billion in damages as a result.
What does this verdict mean for tech innovation—and ultimately for consumers like you and me?
I’m not going to get into the particulars of applying for patents, as some commenters in a Wired story did. You can easily bog down in red herrings and bunny trails. And it ignores the fact that the jury foreman owned three patents, so he knows what’s involved—unlike the commenters.
As I like to do, I’m going to break this down so that it’s intuitive—meaning so easy to grasp, your grandmother could understand.
A history lesson on cell phones
Prior to the iPhone’s debut in 2007, here are what smartphones looked like.
These are, in order, the Motorola Q, the Blackberry Pearl, the Palm Treo, the Nokia E62, and the Samsung Z550.
Yes, the fifth phone here is a Samsung. More on this in a minute.
Note the similarities between these phones.
These devices all had physical keyboards. (Yes, the Samsung has a physical keyboard too; it just slides out.)
These devices all had screens that were only half the size of the phone itself.
And these devices all had controls that used a thumbwheel or other physical object to access or manipulate screen items.
Prior to the iPhone’s debut, Samsung’s phones did not look anything remotely like the iPhone or Samsung’s current phones.
At Cebit 2006, the consumer electronics trade show that debuts upcoming technology, none of Samsung’s phones looked like the iPhone. Contrary to Samsung’s revisionist history, they all looked like what you see here on this page. See it for yourself.
Google “Samsung mobile phone history” and you will not see anything that shows Samsung was any kind of serious player in the phone market until after the iPhone’s introduction.
Even Cory Gunther at AndroidCommunity.com, who declares “we here love Android, not Apple”, admits—and proves—that Samsung’s claim that its F700 phone (which resembles the iPhone) came before the iPhone “is completely false.”
Honest, objective observers can clearly see for themselves that prior to the iPhone’s introduction, not a single phone looked like the iPhone. The proof is right before your eyes.
But that’s not all.
A history lesson on iOS
iOS, the iPhone operating system, was completely unique at the time of its introduction.
Sure, touch screen was not new. Palm devices had touch screens that used styluses. But the multi-touch gestures on the iPhone rocked the tech world. Using your finger to swipe, type, move, manipulate, pinch, scroll and gesture to objects was insanely brilliant.
The accelerometer was also a breakthrough in cell phones, allowing the orientation of the phone’s screen to change accordingly when the device was physically held differently.
There was nothing like the iPhone—iOS—and before.
Then along came Google.
Google released Android, its mobile operating system, and anyone who has played around with Android and iOS will admit the two are extremely similar. That’s never been in question.
The question is who was the innovator, and who was the copycat?
This answer is actually much easier than the answer over whether Samsung’s phones copied the iPhone: Android didn’t debut until September 23, 2008.
Remember, the iPhone was unveiled on January 9, 2007 and was officially released to market on June 29, 2007.
That means Android was released over one year and nine months after the iPhone was unveiled.
Google even shamelessly copied Apple’s App Store concept and named it Android Market.
In fact, Google did not add multi-touch to Android until 2.0, which was released on October 26, 2009—almost three years after iPhone was introduced to the world.
So timing-wise, iOS was clearly first; Android came clearly afterwards. That is indisputable.
You may prefer Android phones because you like minor features better, or because you don’t want to be tied down to AT&T (or now Verizon), or because you just are not an Apple fan for whatever reason.
But you cannot dispute that Android is a blatant ripoff of iOS and that Android phones are blatant ripoffs of iPhone.
Steve Jobs was 100% dead-on when he angrily said Android “is a stolen product.”
If you value innovation, then you should puke every time you see an Android product.
Let’s take this a step further.
A history lesson on tablets
Before Apple debuted the iPad on January 27, 2010, the tablet market was dead. Not a single product in production.
That was because other companies had tried to enter the tablet market and all had failed, including heavyweight Microsoft.
Heck, even after iPad was unveiled, critics scoffed at the notion that the iPad would sell and still pronounced the tablet market to be as dead as ever.
Yet in just over four months from its introduction, over a million iPads were sold. And before iPad 2 was launched, 15 million iPads had sold.
Now consider this: after the iPad’s meteoric success, guess what happened?
If you guessed that competitors flocked to copy the iPad just as they had done before in flocking to copy the iPhone, you are a very astute person.
At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in January, 80 tablet competitors were introduced.
We went from a market with zero products, to a market with iPad and a bunch of scoffers, and then to a market with iPad and 80 copycats!
And guess what? When you put the competitor tablets next to an iPad, they look pretty similar.
Talk about another “stolen product.”
Yet now, the world is abuzz among Android fans who can’t comprehend why Samsung lost their battle with Apple. Some commenters even lament that “it’s a sad moment for technology.”
It’s a sad moment when we protect innovators and condemn thieves?
A lesson in objectivity
I must admit when the iPhone was first introduced, I ignored it.
I didn’t watch Steve Jobs’ presentation.
I didn’t read the press reports.
I mocked the people who stood in line to buy one.
Thinking it was overhyped, I stuck my head in the proverbial sand and hoped the iPhone would die and go away.
Point is that I am certainly not a die-hard iPhone fanboy. In fact, you could say I was the exact opposite—an iPhone hater.
But once I set aside my irrational grudge and saw what it could actually do, I was impressed.
As a tech person myself, I had to admit that if I was truly being objective, it was an unbelievably cool product. And yes, it was unlike anything else on the market at the time.
I broke down and bought one. And when I got to play around with it some more, I was even more impressed. So I bought one for my wife.
I’m hardly alone. Samsung phones today sell because they are blatant iPhone ripoffs. And Samsung benefits from using Android, which is a blatant iOS ripoff. ZDNet’s James Kendrick, who isn’t taking a position on the Samsung-Apple case, did point out the obvious:
“[S]martphones didn’t start selling in significant numbers until they adopted a design similar to the iPhone. The buying public made its preference known with its wallet, and that was for a form and function similar to the iPhone. A design now proven in court to belong to Apple.”
Kendrick used the same intuitive logic as I did to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Android and Samsung’s products came AFTER Apple’s products: history. All you have to do is look at the timeline of when these things occurred and you will readily see who is the innovator and who is the copycat.
A lesson in self-incrimination
For the Android/Samsung devotees who still refuse to remove the blindfold from their eyes, I guess you’ll also reject the damning evidence that Samsung execs were caught giving its engineers not one, not two, but 126 annotated screenshots on how to copy the iPhone. (See the full stunning report.)
This is innovation? This is what consumers want to support…copycats and thieves?
Oddly, Samsung is widely expected to appeal the verdict…despite the fact it admitted rampant and widespread copying of iPhone and iOS.
The bottom line
If you still support Android and Samsung, then you better hope you don’t ever invent anything. Because when people ripoff your invention and make millions off it (or billions in Samsung’s case), you will only be a hypocrite if you cry foul.