No One Said Following Is Easy

Ina Fried, reporting for Recode on the ongoing Apple-Samsung court case, “Top Android Executive Says Google Didn’t Copy Apple’s iPhone”:

Lockheimer testified that Android, too, was the product of long hours and hard work.

“The hours were pretty grueling,” Lockheimer said, speaking of the early days of Android as the operating system was being developed in 2006 and 2007. “They continue to be grueling, by the way. … We work really hard.”

Later in the article:

One thing that was not initially contemplated for the first Android device — at least initially — was any sort of touchscreen.

Weird use of initially in that sentence. As shown below, touchscreens probably were “contemplated” for the first Android devices (they expressly mentioned the potential to support them eventually) but they were explicitly rejected in the specification for Android 1.0.

“Touchscreens will not be supported,” Google said in a 2006 specification for Android devices. “The product was designed with the presence of discrete physical buttons as an assumption. However, there is nothing fundamental in the products [sic] architecture that prevents the support of touch screens [sic] in the future.”

Obviously, Google later changed course and a touchscreen became mandatory. Lockheimer said the vision evolved as the company learned what it heard screen manufacturers tell it what was coming down the pipeline.

This testimony defies credulity. Consider the timeline. As Daniel Dilger documents in a report today for AppleInsider looking at Android design documents entered as evidence in the trial, in August 2006, the draft Android 1.0 design document mandated up/down/left/right/select hardware buttons and explicitly stated that touchscreens would not be supported. Then, the very next revision of the specification, in April 2007 — a draft described as a “major update” — multitouch touchscreens became mandatory. In August 2006 Android was planned as a BlackBerry/Windows Mobile style hardware-button platform with no initial support for touchscreens. In April 2007 it became a platform where multitouch touchscreens were mandatory. The only way one could believe that this change was driven by what Google heard from screen manufacturers is if what the screen manufacturers told Google was, “Holy shit, what are we going to do about the iPhone?”


But what caught my attention is the “hard work” angle in Lockheimer’s testimony. Long hours of hard work don’t disprove that Android copied the iPhone. In fact, copying the iPhone would imply more work. They effectively designed the Android platform twice: first as a BlackBerry/Windows Mobile style hardware button platform, and then as an iPhone-style touchscreen platform.

The word copying is pejorative, so let’s just call it following. Of course Android followed the iPhone’s lead. But what else was Google to do? It took genius to conceive and create the original iPhone. But once it was revealed — and especially once it hit the market — anyone with a lick of sense could see that this was how all such devices should work. If Google had stuck to its original design for Android, it wouldn’t have succeeded in a post-iPhone world — it would have been Windows Mobile without the existing market share.

The first successful implementation of a radical idea is usually and correctly lauded as the innovator. The second is derided as an imitator. But by the time you get to the third and fourth, the idea becomes a category.

It was inevitable that competitors would follow the iPhone’s lead, and it was inevitable that Apple would feel wronged when it happened. What I wonder about is whether it was inevitable that Apple would sue. Are they pursuing Samsung in court because Samsung is so clearly their most successful rival in the handset industry, or is it because Samsung so clearly copied — not merely followed but gratuitously copied — so much from Apple? I suspect it’s both — that it was the combination of Samsung’s blatant copying and mimicry of the iPhone’s trade dress, combined with their success, that has compelled Apple to fight them tooth-and-nail in court.1

I suspect Apple’s goal is not so much about procuring redress for Samsung’s past actions, but rather to send a message. I doubt Apple will be awarded enough money from this Samsung lawsuit to have made the effort worthwhile directly. But indirectly, if the message gets through to competitors that Apple is willing to pursue lawsuits like this with a seemingly irrational fervor, and it makes them (the competitors) gun-shy to copy future Apple products, to follow Apple too closely — it may not be so irrational after all.2


  1. They’ve sued other companies, too — most notably HTC. But nothing with the fervor and high stakes of this Samsung lawsuit. 

  2. I also believe that Apple’s executives — Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, Eddy Cue, all of them — truly believe that suing Samsung, fighting the case until the bitter end, is the morally right thing to do. Remember what Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson about his willingness to spend “every penny” of Apple’s cash and “go thermonuclear war on this”. I believe Apple’s current leadership feels exactly the same way. The fact that this is not entirely rational, that it’s driven in part by emotion, anger, and a sense of justice, serves Apple’s interests by disincentivizing would-be future copiers. A crazy opponent is a dangerous opponent. 

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