Samsung vs Apple – who’s the victim?

There’s a lot of stuff in the blogosphere and tech media about the current patent wars between Apple and Samsung. The merits of each side’s case are debated fiercely and people are defending their allegiances with an almost religious zeal. In truth, it shows neither company in a great light as they push the boundaries of patent law and the English language.

In my opinion, Samsung did copy the Apple iPhone and iPad. (NB since I wrote this, a US court has also taken this view). They produced products that are barely distinguishable to the novice eye, an impression that persists when the screen lights up and shows a similar-looking interface. So why did they do that, rather than come up with their own unique designs?

Obviously, it’s faster and cheaper to copy someone else. In this case, they also benefited from the ‘halo’ effect of the Apple brand by inferring their products had the same quality and style. But who were they trying to fool? Not the innovators and early adopters, who know all the technical specs and software features and reckoned the Apple products to be superior, albeit more expensive.

Let’s remember, these are consumer products. They are aimed at the mass market, the less-knowledgeable buyer. Now, you can see that for a first-time smartphone (or tablet) buyer, looking at the two products in a phone shop, they might assume they are practically the same thing. Except one is much cheaper than the other, and is also a ‘good’ brand. Which one do you think they will go with?

Only Apple provide more than just a product, they provide an ecosystem containing iTunes and the App store, their shops and more – a complete customer experience. Samsung are barely on the map in this regard.

So, were Samsung trying to rip off Apple? Or the consumer?

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2 responses to “Samsung vs Apple – who’s the victim?

  1. I reviewed this in some depth Colin, as a very worthwhile article to discuss.

    Overall, Samsung are producing better products more cheaply than Apple, and is benefiting the consumer.

    On the Twitterati posts a fair amount of comment was being received regarding the fragility of the Apple smartphone glass screens, frequent breakages and high repair fees. Samsung use the later Corning ‘Gorilla Glass’ tech and their phones (including mine) are proving more robust. Ecosystems are a matter of choice, mine is open source, Android, and unlocked .mp3.

    I then considered what happened to Microsoft after they went down the heavy litigation route with just about everyone, introduced all sorts of lock-ins, (my Microsoft version of iTunes and songs therein no longer works), and where is Microsoft now? The issue with the litigation route is that it distracts management so much they forget their purpose is to keep innovating. In addition, there is a heavy reputational risk that takes place, Microsoft lost it’s place as a trusted brand a few years ago because of its legal antics.

    I then recalled the case of Blackboard Inc, a #1 market share education player company that sued it’s competitors for infringements. The result was heavy loss of reputation, slow growth, and only when they abandoned the practice in 2006 did they grow effectively.

    Finally there was the case of Ashton Tate who also followed the Apple route of routinely suing competitors. Upon losing one case where it was discovered they did not own copyright for a feature that was somewhat similar to Apple and being able to patent a rectangle, the result was the total failure of Ashton Tate.

    Apple’s sales margin is so high at 58% that they are the natural for any competitor to pursue, and Samsung are benefiting consumers by bringing down high price and improved products. The latest IDC report has Samsung outselling Apple 3 to 1.

    Finally, the day after the litigation, I received an urgent red flag ‘Apple Sell’ warning from Money Week (http://www.moneyweek.com/investment-advice/share-tips/apple-shares-and-the-smartphone-wars-60300).

    • Reasonable points, Chris (not that I agree with them all). I wasn’t really comparing the current products, I was commenting on the fact that Samsung made their initial Android devices look like iPhones and, in so doing, deceived customers. For example, you can buy a lot cookware that looks like Le Creuset but it is not the same quality and doesn’t come with the same guarantees. Most people will appreciate that but when it comes to a complex device like a smartphone, most won’t appreciate the differences.

      Regarding the litigation, Apple’s purpose is to defend their IP and protect the bonus they reap for their innovation. If companies are unable to get a reward for innovation they will cease to invest in it and we will all be impoverished.

      As for the Money Week red flag, iPhone5 sales will make it the most successful device ever. I hope people didn’t follow their advice.

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