This isn’t speculation — an Apple employee copied Sony’s design, circulated it to his bosses, and testified to these facts in court.
From now on, when anyone heaps phrase on Apple’s design excellence and superlative innovation, just point and laugh. Some of us have been saying for years that what Apple is really good at is ripping off other peoples’ ideas and stealing the credit for them with slick marketing. This, right here, is the proof.
This whole “iPhone design inspired by Sony” (or, as these guys put it, “Apple Stole iPhone Design From Sony, Patented It And Sued Everyone Else”) argument from Samsung has a lot of people confused.
Here’s the relevant portion from Samsung’s pre-trial brief (PDF):
For its part, Apple’s “revolutionary” iPhone design was derived from the designs of a competitor — Sony. In February 2006, before the claimed iPhone design was conceived of, Apple executive Tony Fadell circulated a news article to Steve Jobs, Jonathan Ive and others. In the article, a Sony designer discussed Sony designs for portable electronic devices that lacked buttons and other “excessive ornamentation,” fit in the hand, were “square with a screen” and had “corners [which] have been rounded out.” Right after this article was circulated internally, Apple industrial designer Shin Nishibori was directed to prepare a “Sony-like” design for an Apple phone and then had CAD drawings and a three-dimensional model prepared. Confirming the origin of the design, these internal Apple CAD drawings prepared at Mr. Nishibori‘s direction even had the “Sony” name prominently emblazoned on the phone design, as the below images from Apple‘s internal documents show:
The Verge has an image gallery of the “Sony” phone in question. Here’s the thing, though — it’s not a Sony phone. It’s an in-house mockup by an Apple designer inspired by a very broad description of Sony devices. There is no actual circa 2006 Sony phone that looks like this. [Update: Here’s more on the Samsung-cited Businessweek interview with two Sony designers, including the relevant passage, which was actually in response to a question about how much Sony’s design had been inspired by, of all things, the iPod.]
Via John Paczkowski, here’s the actual Sony phone Samsung is claiming Apple copied for the iPhone. Yeah, that’s a dead ringer for the iPhone.
Feel free to continue believing what you want to believe about how original the iPhone design was (here’s a 2005 design by Apple, another fascinating nugget revealed by this lawsuit), but don’t make the mistake of thinking this “Sony” mockup was an actual Sony phone or even a Sony concept. It was an Apple concept showing what a Sony phone might look like.