Some wounds never heal. Just ask Apple, the new champion of the spiteful.
As we were all celebrating the 15th anniversary of the original iPhone, Apple took a moment during a rather extensive and fascinating interview with Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal to once again call out rival Samsung for allegedly copying iPhone technology.
Apple’s current head of marketing Greg Joswiak, an amiable guy I’ve had many pleasant and sometimes incisive conversations with, is one of the highlights in Stern’s video, which cleverly details the history of the iPhone through the eyes of someone who was born on the same day.
However, when she asks Joswiak about the rise of the big-screen Android phone and Samsung’s stake in it, Joswiak’s smile fades and he calls it “annoying”.
Okay, I understand this. Apple was on top of the world with an industry-changing device that came in exactly one flavor. There were no Pros or Maxes or screen size variants. You’re 3.5 inches and that was the end of it. Then Samsung arrives with devices like the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S4, all of which have screens at least an inch larger. Worse still, its icon-based designs and home screens were a little too familiar.
Yeah, I think I’d be upset too.
But Joswiak is not finished. “They were annoying because, as you know, they stole our technology.” Wow. so we go there. Warming up to the topic, Joswiak continues: “They took the innovations we created and created bad copy and just put a bigger canvas around it. Yeah, so we weren’t too pleased.”
Huh. It is as if the wounds are still fresh, although they are not, even from the point of view of litigation.
Apple vs Samsung
Already in 2011, Apple sues Samsung (opens in new tab) for patent infringement, alleging that Samsung copied the look of its iPhone 3GS. Later, Samsung counterattacked, claiming that Apple was copying them.
The legal battles raged for years and cost – particularly Samsung – millions of dollars until the two parties quietly resolved in 2018 (opens in new tab).
Yet here is Joswiak, opening that old wound as if the companies weren’t even partners.
That’s right, for all the pieces of technology that Apple seeks to build (including, now, Apple Silicon), it still relies on component manufacturers for various iPhone parts and technologies. In recent years, Qualcomm (another enemy) and Broadcom have both provided wireless chips and Samsung is often the provider of OLED screens in most modern iPhones.
It’s true that Apple insists on bespoke components from many of its partners, which means that whatever, say, Samsung might build for its own phones and other companies, Apple likely asks it to make various tweaks to satisfy it. its own stringent requirements.
Even though Apple and Samsung were never partners, Joswiak’s new enmity is striking. It’s as if he’s not aware that the entire cellphone industry is inexorably slipping into the middle. All smartphones are alike and even though Samsung hadn’t “copied” some of Apple’s design elements and functionality, there was a clear path for all smartphones:
- bigger screens
- biometric security
- thinner bodies
- Longer battery life
- On-screen apps and app management
- Better and more cameras
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it’s also how development works. Unless you are inventing something that no one has ever seen before, your product and design will inevitably build on what has come before.
Of course, Samsung (and other third-party Android smartphone designers Apple also ended up suing (opens in new tab)) everyone saw the seemingly ubiquitous iPhone and used them for a while. They had to understand this phenomenon. Even if they didn’t do teardowns and reverse engineering (many probably did), they would be influenced by the iPhone just the same.
It could be argued that the creation of another platform option and some aspirational design decisions made by Samsung (like bigger screens) really helped Apple, leading them to expand the iPhone options from one model to the current five options (iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone SE (2022)).
Typically, when you ask a tech executive about the competition, even from a historical perspective, they refuse and talk about how the competition has led to growth and innovation for them.
Joswiak, however, made it clear that Apple is still angry.
On reflection, though, maybe this isn’t a bad thing. That means Apple is as hungry as a young company. He can still feel the disrespects of the early days and uses them as fuel to drive new innovations.
Maybe it’s even a sign that Apple is preparing to, after all these years, strike back at Samsung where it hurts the most – in the market. And what better way to do that than with Apple’s first foldable iPhone. Imagine how Samsung will feel when that arrives.
I would say, “angry”.