When I started at the academy in the early ’90s, there was one admission test you had to be able to pass; which was to design a tablet computer, including the GUI design of its operating system. There had only been one class in this then still magical area of ‘usability design’ before us in the whole wide world, and we were the first with this test. So, please, I see this whole Samsung vs. Apple patent war from a complete other perspective. Believe me, we were with 18 people in the class at the academy back then, and at least half of all tablet designs looked like what is the iPad now.
I do not really understand this whole feud between the two multinationals. I mean, I absolutely understand the legal aspect of patents. And both parties play a nasty fight with it, but I do have to side with Samsung’s remark; Apple copied from Sony. And you know what? I think Sony copied it again from Windows, who might have copied it again from Xerox.
What people who do not work or have been educated in usability design do not understand is that there is a natural evolution in design. That is how usability works! Designs are being copied, especially when it is about interfaces with users. Without it, there would not be any good design left.
Any interface can work without explanation because of one single element; recognition. An on/off button on any device shows the open circle with the line through it in the top. The stop icon on a media player of any kind is a square, and the play button is an arrow pointing right. No matter what the device, that is what it is now.
In my opinion, if Apple tries to sue Samsung for its design aspect of the OS, sorry, but icon based touch screen interaction is as old as the first Xerox GUI systems. And they were there far before Apple launched it’s Elisa.
I hear you, you mention the design of the actual hardware. Which is also a non existing issue from a design point of view. Every design evolves towards an minimalistic concept that is needed to make the device do it’s work. You don’t hear any, any, television manufacturer sue another one because their television sets look too much alike. Especially nowadays, a television is more or less a screen with a small border around it. Hey? Isn’t that almost exactly the shape of an iPad?
My Sony-Ericsson that I took with me when I immigrated in 2005 had an interface on it that was spot-on iOS. Rounded-squared icons, separate tools running. And to be honest, the hardware look from the iPhone didn’t look so much different then the look and feel of mobile PC’s prior to that.
Design evolves, and at one moment, everything will start to look alike. Look at the devices hooked up to your television. How many things now look rectangular, shiney/black? Regular landline telephone sets? They are all more or less the same. Tablets, of course they will all look alike, it is all about the screen and the most minimalistic design around it, which is a border.
I absolutely understand why judges all over the world mention for Apple and Samsung to just figure it out how to go on.
Is Apple wrong? Hmmmm… no. I mean, based on what I just wrote, I think these lawsuits are a waste of taxpayer’s money. But, we live in a society where Apple was allowed to patent things that should never hold up. As did other companies too.
Look, Samsung is not holier than the pope either. Microsoft, when they worked on their Surface tablets, simply paid Apple the licensing fees that were required to make the thing work. Nobody ever heard a peep from both companies, and Apple is not attacking Microsoft in any way about their tablet, even though it does look like an iPad from the outside, like any other tablet.
Samsung just doesn’t want to pay, because they want to pay less and don’t see the reason why they should pay up for the licensing fees. Well, that is part of being in the tablet game. You have to play by the rules. And if one of the rules is that you have to pay licensing fees, shut up and just do it. If you think that the patent never should have been approved, take that up with court, and let that be figured out.
Patents, in my opinion, are a necessary evil. Without it, it would be almost impossible to defend someone who is hard working on a concept, from prying eyes. I absolutely favor the concept of a patent, but maybe patents should be brought back again to its essential state. If you did not invent it, or if what you try to patent simply has been generally accepted already, you should not be able to get it approved. Simple.
But knowing that design always will turn into a certain direction, it will evolve over time; design should never been able to be patented. Not usability design, no graphic design. Technical designs, sure! But you should never be able to patent a look-and-feel. It is too general.
But technical designs should also be able to be patent only in a reasonable form. You cannot patent a loop in code, for example. You should be able to patent a complete language, or a complete array of functionalities that together form a whole.
It is a thin line, and not an easy one to define. I don’t say it is the answer, but it is an answer maybe worth looking into.