Samsung’s Digital Picture Frame was no iPad
August 23rd, 2011
Daniel Eran Dilger
If Google’s overall Android strategy seems to be derived from the collective fantasies of blog commenters (Google should buy Motorola!!), then Samsung’s legal defense in Apple’s infringement cases appears to be similarly sourced from anonymous online comments (I can’t see it!! If anything, Apple is copying Samsung!!).
Samsung has already stated in its legal filings with the US court that “in Germany, Apple secretly filed for an injunction, without any notice to Samsung, and with reportedly doctored evidence,” tacking the conspiracy theory Android advocacy of Andreas Udo de Haes (that Apple had to distort photos to make the Galaxy Tab look like an iPad) on the back end of a flat out misrepresentation about court filings that sounds like it was written for a high school newspaper.
Now, it seems, Samsung is reaching out to embrace more populist blogarrhea: that the iPad’s instantly recognizable design and branding are nothing new at all because flat displays have been presented in science fiction going back into the 1960s.
As a leading manufacturer of flat displays, you’d think Samsung would have more to go on that an a clip of “2001” that portrays astronauts watching TV on what appears to be a slate form factor screen. Samsung not only asks the court to recognize this as a tablet computer, but also suggests there is some similarity in design between the IBM branded display and Apple’s iPad.
That’s a bit of a stretch, given the strip of buttons below, the angled lip, and square corners and the almost invisibly thin margin around the screen (click to enlarge). Had Samsung built something that looked like that, I doubt if Apple would have alleged that its device were infringing its design patent for the iPad.
But Samsung didn’t build a fantasy ’68 TV, it built an iPad 2 clone. So slavish was its attention to cloning the iPad that it had to go back to the drawing board for the Galaxy Tab 10.1 after iPad 2 was released to make its own tablet even more like Apple’s design.
Samsung’s digital photo frame
But wait, Samsung’s fans say, didn’t the company itself make a device with a flush-surface screen and a wide black margin? Back in 2006, Engadget described a product Samsung no longer makes: a digital photo frame that looks suspiciously like the iPad, but four years before the iPad, and before the iPhone even.
Well it looks like it from one angle anyways. In reality, the 7 inch digital photo frame wouldn’t be mistaken for an iPad at all, and of course, wasn’t anything like an iPad in functionality, as the comparison below to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the design patent it offends indicates.
Apple’s D889 design patent does address elements of the face of the iPad that are similar to the minimal face of the minimally functional Samsung photo frame, but the design patent also describes the iPad from the back, corner, sides, and beveled edges, none of which are remotely similar to Samsung’s earlier product.
Further, Samsung didn’t continue to build devices that extended the look of its photo frame in new directions. The company’s smartphones and tablets didn’t adopt the lines of its 2006 photo frame; they copied the look of Motorola flip phones, Nokia candy bar phones, and Microsoft reference designs for Tablet PC/UMPC, right up until Apple’s iPhone and iPad became popular, at which point Samsung began copying Apple.
Even Samsung’s subsequent photo frames (like the one below, from 2008, after the original iPhone was released) abandoned any fleeting similarity with the design Apple would later use throughout its iOS devices, instead pursuing an angular, squared shape with lots of navigational buttons on the front, the very antithesis of Apple’s mobile designs.
Further, Apple isn’t just arguing that there is some resemblance between its design and a product made by Samsung. It’s alleging that a wide variety of Samsung’s modern products (including virtually the entire Galaxy line) are actively striving to look as identical as possible to the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.
It also maintains that the reason Samsung is doing this isn’t because there is no other way to build phones or tablets, but because Samsung recognizes that the market wants the devices Apple designs, advertises and builds its reputation and goodwill behind, and that it is seeking to ride Apple’s coattails to reach the same market with far less effort than if it were to create its own designs and build its own reputation with them.
It looks bad for Android when its most successful licensee is the one copying Apple the most slavishly. Android was supposed to open the floodgates to options and choices, but the more Android diverges from Apple’s designs (witness the abject failure of Android 3.0 Honeycomb), the worse it fares in the market. This is something that Microsoft has learned over and over in the Tablet PC market, the music player market, the netbook market and the smartphone market.
Perhaps the market doesn’t really want random “choice” as much as good, thoughtful original designs that come from hard work rather than copying others’ products and just making some arbitrary changes to differentiate.
Samsung uses Apple’s design patents as Galaxy blueprints
Also, note that Apple isn’t just accusing Samsung of infringing upon one or two elements of its overall design; it’s flatly stating that Samsung has actively pursued cloning Apple’s designs to rip off Apple’s reputation to sell an inferior product that purports to look and work the same as Apple’s own products. Apple further claims that by doing this, Apple’s own reputation and image will be tarnished, not unlike The Situation with Abercrombie and Fitch.
The Galaxy Tab 10.1 clearly appears to use Apple’s D889 patent as its blueprint. In contrast, Samsung’s own digital photo frame doesn’t look anything like the iPad outside of resembling its minimalist face, largely because the digital photo frame had no functionality on its face. From the side, back and top it looks nothing like the iPad. As soon as Samsung’s digital photo frame picked up some additional features, Samsung started putting buttons on it.
In its legal complaint, Apple paints a picture that shows Samsung first copying its iPhone 3GS for its own Galaxy S 4G, then moving on to mimic the iPhone 4 design with its own Infuse 4G, and finally making (and then refining) its Galaxy Tab 10.1 to look as close to the iPad 2 as possible. Not just a casual coincidence, but again what appears to be the use of the design patent as a blueprint, right down to smartphones with “a rounded, horizontal speaker slot centered on the front surface above the display screen.”
Samsung can pull allnighters perusing Star Trek and Dr Who looking for prior art, but the fact remains that people didn’t buy the iPad because it reminded them of Samsung’s photo frame, or a special effect they first observed while dropping LSD, or a fantasy book depicted in a work of fiction to function like a TV. They bought it because of Apple’s solid reputation for building the iPhone as a smartly designed, genius simple handheld computer in the body of a cell phone. They bought it because it delivered a sense of magical wonderment.
Samsung copies Apple’s design, but fails to copy the magic
Samsung assembled imitative hardware and runs Google’s Android on it. That combination lacks the refinement of Apple’s products. Android’s user interface lags because it lacks full hardware acceleration for a variety of screen animations that iOS performs with flawless grace. Copying this aspect of the iPad would require far more effort than simply copying Apple’s design for the body and putting it in a copy of Apple’s design for the box and promoting it with copies of Apple’s marketing photos.
Samsung’s original Android tablets can’t run a software update that arrived just a few months after the product shipped. Samsung knew it was coming but only focused on shipping a “smooth” number of boxes into the channel, not on delivering value or a good product for its customers. Steve Jobs flatly predicted that Samsung would abandon its early adopters to move on to another design, and sure enough it did within about six months.
Last year I bought a Samsung 3D HDTV. This year, the company arbitrarily changed the design of its ~$100 pairs of 3D glasses, making its own 2011 TVs incompatible with the previous year’s 3D glasses and vice versa. That’s also crappy way to treat your customers, and pretty much on par for the company and its short lived Android smartphones and tablets, where updates are a hit or miss affair.
Samsung has had four years to observe how its largest client Apple does business and how it treats its own customers. But Samsung hasn’t copied Apple in many areas that matter, because Samsung isn’t interested in delivering the state of the art in building innovative new products to wow customers. It’s primarily interested in appropriating Apple’s goodwill to sell its own inferior products to customers by hoodwinking them into thinking that its own emotionless product duplicates are the same as Apple’s.
If you want to find prior art of that kind of copying, try watching “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”