Did Apple-Samsung battle originate due to cultural differences? Why the white flag now?

On 6th of March  2012, Roger Cheng first reported on cNet that Apple was eager to end it’s battle with Samsung. If the reports are true, the obvious questions that come to our mind are :

  • Why now?

  • What next?

First, let’s cover the Why Now part. It was Apple who started with filing lawsuits last April, claiming that Samsung  had “slavishly” copied its iPad and iPhone and since then the situation has turned more and more ugly, with both the companies dragging each other to a legal battle in several countries claiming patent infringements.

Now let’s have a closer look on what specifically was mentioned in the lawsuit filed by Apple initially.

“Instead of pursuing independent product development, Samsung has chosen to slavishly copy Apple’s innovative technology, distinctive user interfaces, and elegant and distinctive product and packaging design, in violation of Apple’s valuable intellectual property rights,” Apple said in the complaint.

“The copying is so pervasive, that the Samsung Galaxy products appear to be actual Apple products — with the same rectangular shape with rounded corners, silver edging, a flat surface face with substantial top and bottom black borders, gently curving edges on the back, and a display of colorful square icons with rounded corners,” the complaint said.

Clearly Apple was targetting the Galaxy S 4G, Infuse 4G, Droid Charge, and Galaxy Tab 10.1.

Samsung, in it’s defense argued that there aren’t much alternate design options for designing such devices.

Some would have argued that the rectangular shape existed in nature long before iPads or iPhones were invented and Apple’s lawsuit was unjustified. But the truth is different. Given below is how a Samsung Galaxy tab box looks like in comparision to the Apple iPad’s.

This is how the open boxes look like :

Photo courtesy: FoneArena.com

It’s clear that the resemblances have more to do than sheer coincidences. The infringement is not limited to just the design of the boxes, there are a host of others which can be viewed in the complete lawsuit. Click here to view the complete lawsuit.

To prove that Samsung had alternate design options,  Apple went ahead to the extent of suggesting design alternatives.

In section 2-40 and 2-41 of the redacted public legal brief (pdf), Apple offers alternative smartphone designs Samsung could have used instead:

  • Front surfaces that are not black or clear
  • Front surfaces that are not rectangular, not flat, and without rounded corners
  • Display screens that are more square than rectangular or not rectangular at all
  • Display screens that are not centered on the front surface of the phone and that have substantial lateral borders
  • Speaker openings that are not horizontal slots with rounded ends and that are not centered above the display screen
  • Front surfaces that contain substantial adornment
  • Phones without bezels at all or very different-looking bezels that are not thin, uniform, and with an inwardly sloping profile

The tablet alternatives Apple felt Samsung should have explored are similar:

  • Overall shapes that are not rectangular with four flat sides or that do not have four rounded corners
  • Front surfaces that are not completely flat or clear and that have substantial adornment
  • Thick frames rather than a thin rim around the front surface
  • Profiles that are not thin
  • A cluttered appearance

Did Apple go too far by providing design Alternatives ?

As soon as the design alternatives were out in the public, Apple was being mocked for the sugestions they provided or rather for their smugness. There were various examples used to mock Apple, the most popular being the one below where a Honda Car bore a striking resemblance to that of Toyota’s.

Here is the list of supposed suggestions that Honda could follow to avoid being sued by Toyota

  • Different number of wheels. Why not six or eight? Or, consider a shape other than round.
  • Windshield. Consider something different, like maybe a periscope.
  • Headlights. Maybe something like roof mounted floodlights would better differenciate Honda’s product.
  • Mirrors on the side of the car. Consider the top?
  • Gas cap on the side of the car. Maybe the top or the bottom would be a better choice?
  • Door handles. Maybe consider a lever.
  • The wheel covers are too similar. Maybe something that looks like a fruit?
  • Solid colors. Consider polka-dots or stripes.
  • Advertising. Avoid using black. Or white. Or shades of gray.

Clearly, Apple had committed a strategic blunder by not completely channelizing all efforts against Google but by going after it’s vendor partners instead.

Ever since, the Apple-Samsung battle started, both companies have won a number of battles over each other. Till now the battle has been more-or-less evenly contested.

Did change in Leadership cause a change in stance or there was more to it than just change in Leadership ?

Steve Jobs was someone, who liked to catch the bull by it’s horn. He was a person who was unrelenting and did not like to compromise. But with Steve Jobs no longer around, the new leadership at Apple appears keen to end the ongoing legal battle.

Now there is more to the story than just change in leadership.

It is learnt that, Apple had not licensed some essential patents that are critical to 3G-network reception in both its iPhones since 2008 and the iPad since 2010. So while Apple may have won a couple of its alleged patent breaches by Samsung, the fact is these breaches only extended from April 2011 onwards whereas Apple’s own breaches extended back five years. (Source: themusicvoid.com || Click here to read more)

What this translates to is that had Apple won the battle, the payouts from Samsung to Apple would have been less than what Apple would pay Samsung if Samsung were to win the battle.

The cultural differences:

The cultural differences have more to do with the economies of the United States and South Korea than the companies in question.

The United States is a country whose economy is research oriented. The US always encourages research and development, innovation, etc right from the grass root level. Within the US, designs and algorithms are considered intellectual properties. Also, suing almost one of the most popular games in the US, after Basketball and Baseball where individuals and companies get involved in suing others even if there is a slightest indication of infringement of the intellectual property.

Now, Apple being US company has inculcated the US culture where Research is valued highly. And true to the US style, Apple would sue any company for the slightest infringement of intellectual property.

Compare this with the South Koreaen values. South Korea is one of the countries which is an economy which depends on Manufacturing and Mass Production. Ths same is the case with China and Japan.

Samsunng true to it’s Korean nature relies upon mass production rather than Research and Innovation. They aim to provide the electronic gadgets at a competitive price.

It is for this reason that Apple has chosen Samsung to supply them with A4 and A5 chips. No other company would have been able to offer Apple the chips at a price as competitive as Samsung.

In fact Apple has asked Samsung to ramp-up productions in the Texas plant for A6 chips. Samsung considers Apple it’s top customer. Also, for it would not have been possible to continue the war with a company on whom they themselves rely upon for chips. We could now expect Apple’s battle with Samsung and other companies like Motorola to end soon.

Lastly, When the Apple Samsung battle ends, it’s the consumers across the globe who would win.

On a personal note, I believe, we need to look beyond merely the specifications when we compare Apple and Samsung products. Though Apple products are expensive, it’s a pleasure to work on an iPhone or an iPad. They are better then the Android phones or Tabs.


The DNetWorks Team