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Why It Matters That Samsung Copied Apple [Opinion]

Samsung copied Apple. There really isn’t another way to put it. Samsung didn’t copy Apple in every conceivable way, but when you compare several of their phones to the iPhone, it’s clear that Samsung wanted their hardware and software to resemble that of Apple’s iPhone.

It’s easy for Android supporters to want to defend Samsung, but the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of Apple’s argument: Samsung realized that it needed to copy Apple to get ahead in the smartphone space. In terms of what this means for the lawsuit seems trivial, but there are deeper issues at stake. How did Samsung copying Apple damage the Android ecosystem as a whole and why should you care?

Since the release of the original Galaxy S back in 2010, Samsung began a steady climb to become the dominant Android manufacturer in terms of both tablets and smartphones. Prior to the Galaxy S, Samsung had touted phones like the original Galaxy (running Android 1.6) and before then the Omnia line of phones running Windows Mobile. Like HTC, Samsung began developing their custom skin, TouchWiz, on Windows Mobile before hitting their stride by skinning Android.

It is important to remember that in the early days of Android, there were not a lot of differences between Android and Windows Mobile. Both operating systems were designed to compete with Blackberry OS, Palm OS, and Symbian, not iOS. Towards the end of Windows Mobile’s life, companies like Samsung and HTC made Windows Mobile usable with TouchFlo UI (later renamed Sense) and TouchWiz. Because Android was not designed to compete with a touch-only operating system, Android manufacturers used skins to make Android more competitive. For example, while the original Droid could not originally pinch-to-zoom, the Droid Eris and Droid Incredible were able to because of Sense (at least in the browser; Google apps like Maps weren’t able to use pinch-to-zoom until Google updated them).

In the midst of Apple’s market disruptions, customers were looking for a more modern smartphone than Microsoft or Blackberry had to offer. They turned to manufacturers like HTC and Samsung to provide a skinned Android experience more like the experience afforded by the iPhone. Manufacturers correctly assessed that Android’s early incarnations were not as polished as they should have been to compete with iOS, so they skinned them to improve the experience. HTC had partnered with Google to make the first flagship Android phones (the G1, the Magic, and the Nexus One), making it the most prominent Android manufacturer in the early days of Android.

Other manufacturers wanted to get ahead. As OEMs realized that Android was the way to go (especially since Microsoft’s upcoming OS would not allow the manufacturer customizations that OEMs had pured millions of dollars into developing), they began to push more of their efforts into customizing Android. Samsung was able to jump ahead of everyone with the release of the Galaxy S, the successor to the less-than-impressive Galaxy.

The Galaxy S had a lot of things going for it. It featured a 1 GHz processor, a Super AMOLED display, a 5 MP camera, and perhaps most importantly, was available on all four major carriers in the US by September of 2010. At the time, the iPhone was still only available on AT&T in the United States. Following the release of the Galaxy S, Samsung began their steady climb to become the only profitable Android manufacturer in the world.

The question is, what did Samsung do that HTC, Motorola, and others didn’t? The answer is simple: Samsung copied Apple while manufacturers like Motorla and HTC differentiated their software. The evidence has always been clear. A quick comparison between the Galaxy S and the iPhone 3G/3GS reveal many similarities between the design of the bezel to the color and look of many TouchWiz icons. To make matters worse, the trial between Samsung and Apple has revealed several internal Samsung documents that specifically state that Samsung was trying to copy Apple.

As supporters of Android, we shouldn’t care if one manufacturer fairs better than another; after all, competition spurs innovation. We should care, however, if a manufacturer steals ideas from a competitor to get ahead of everyone else instead of innovating on their own. If you look at Samsung’s Omnia line and first Galaxy device, it’s clear that Samsung was further behind in the game than Motorola or HTC.

Look at Motorola and HTC devices in the era of the iPhone 3G onward. There is a clear design aesthetic that Motorola and HTC have been pursuing. When you see a Motorola or a Samsung phone today, the design is iconic of each company. While Motorola and HTC may have taken some inspiration from Apple initially (especially HTC), both companies differentiated their software and eventually came into their own hardware design language. Motorola phones usually feature striking edges, tough materials, and blocky software design while HTC phones have curved edges and polished, flashy software. There is a clear path of design aesthetic from the Droid to the RAZR. The same can be said of HTC’s designs from the Nexus One onward (the G1 and the Magic still looked like Windows Mobile devices in my opinion). Samsung’s devices, on the other hand, take a dramatic shift from the Galaxy S onward in terms of software and hardware mimicking the iPhone.

Maybe Samsung got ahead because consumers saw their phones as close enough to an iPhone. Maybe Samsung got ahead because they stole hardware design and software ideas from Apple so they didn’t have to put in as much time and effort as other OEMs did in developing their own ideas. Regardless of the specific reason, it is clear that Samsung not only stole ideas from Apple to get ahead, but that it worked. More importantly, because it worked, the Android ecosystem as a whole has suffered and manufacturers that would have probably thrived through their own innovations are instead losing money every quarter. I have no doubt that companies like Motorola and HTC would be doing much better had Samsung decided to compete by actually innovating instead of lazily stealing ideas from Apple to get ahead. Apple surprised the world with the iPhone. Everyone knew that it would take time for the competition to catch up and then really compete, but Samsung took the lazy route and copied Apple instead of innovating.

Obviously Samsung didn’t copy everything from Apple, but their own documents make it clear that their intent was to copy enough from Apple to get ahead. This sort of problem can’t be solved in the courts. Samsung has built up a brand and a reputation that, based on Galaxy S III sales, will be difficult to tarnish. The reality is, most people won’t care that Samsung copied Apple, but they should. Real innovators like HTC and Motorola would undoubtedly be doing better in the market, and therefore have more resources to keep innovating. Google can’t buy all the OEMs that fail, and even if they could, that wouldn’t right Samsung’s wrong. The Android ecosystem has been forever damaged by Samsung’s callous laziness. Samsung’s brazen copying of the iPhone didn’t hurt Apple nearly as much as it hurt other Android OEMs. Hopefully OEMs like Motorola and HTC are able to out-innovate the competition even more to ensure their success in the market.

  • Christopher Mason

    I’m happy they lost. That means no more touchwiz!

  • This is quoted from Steve Jobs himself, “great artists copy” now he couldn’t appreciate his own COPIED words of wisdom? What a put foot in the mouth video haha!

  • I bought my first Samsung galaxy so “vibrant” because I stopped by a tmobile store & the first thing I noticed was the screen, the screen was like none other that I ever saw… The colors, the screen seemed to be right on the glass as it was a piece of paper pasted under a thing piece of glass & when I took it home I was blown away by the fact that it’s gpu was so powerful & the best for years to come. I didn’t like the I phone but I liked the galaxy so vibrant. So I never noticed that it “looked” like the I phone, I only noticed that it had a big but full 4″ screen & that it was thinking with a 5 mp camera & a 1ghz hummingbird processor wich were the best specs at the time. The shape of the phone meant nothing to me, a common rectangular shape is now patented? HoThFk? Well like I said it was the screen & guts that I liked & when I looked at the phone for the first time & even threw the year I didn’t see I phone in it, I saw a phone pushing the limits… Apple took notes from Samsung if you ask me by buying there chip sets & using the power vr after noticing how Samsung stole there spotlight. They even bought the whole power vr stock so that Samsung wouldn’t be able to provide there customers with the gpu, they monopolized to control the media directly at I phone…. So f*** apple & this one sided review.

  • Samsung made a better choice for consumers and better devices, Apple is a freak.

  • M isn’t patented, so is C, or D or etc.. But if you open a restaurant and call it “Mc Donald” , Mc Donald will sue you.
    Samsung took the iPhone, dissected it screen by screen and decided how to make their phone look and behave like the iPhone. Google told Samsung in 2010 (or 2011) to stop mimicking the iPhone. That says a lot, even Google noticed that. (Do a search on the document presented in court, you’ll see how Samsung is such a cheap thief
    You can go on about how it still has a logo on it, and how it’s got NFC etc… That doesn’t change the fact that Samsung copied ideas (Yes, those rectangles and icons which they couldn’t come up with until Apple did) that Apple has been developing since 2002, and pasted them on their Phones.
    I think Samsung should pay more than just a Single billion. Should be at least 5. they are such a disgrace to the Android community. Companies like HTC, and Motorola that try so hard to come up with their HTC Sense and Blur should be given a chance.
    Stop copying… Please

  • BILL

    wait a minute judge,your robe looks like mine. it is time to sue. LMAO

  • BILL

    they look alike. big friggin deal. next will be the auto makers crying that someone stole the look of their car. stupid stupid court decision. oh my your gun looks like mine, i will sue you now… LMAO

  • chrizzle

    By admitting that Samsung did copy, you are basically saying that car manufacturers should be sued because they produced a truck, and that truck looks like another type of truck. Or the Chrysler 300 should be sued because it kinda looks like a Bentley. Absurd.

    • I said that Samsung is guilty of copying Apple, not that Apple should sue them for it.

  • Funny

    Sam is not singing anymore. Just might eat a nice apple

  • mely <3

    im heving problems with my phone it dosent want t ocharge its not the charger its the phone can ya’ll helo me

  • This was a very thoughtful and analytical piece. I do appreciate the bold understanding and comparisons the author made in exhibiting the long journey that the various mobile OS platforms have taken into becoming their own. After reading this, I too must align with the overwhelming evidence: Samsung could have done much more to differentiate their products, but instead settled for less. I would have liked to see how exactly this author concluded, perhaps with statistical evidence or more concrete examples, that the Android ecosystem and its various distributors have suffered as consequences of Samsung’s decisions.

    • The best concrete examples I can offer are Motorola and HTC’s earnings statements for the best few quarters. Samsung is currently the only profitable Android OEM; everyone else is losing money every quarter.

  • I agree that this is somewhat valid, however let me throw this at you.

    The iPhone was the first of it’s kind right? Meaning it was essentially the building block for this new era of smartphones. This would be very similar to Mac and Windows when they first started. Both devices has an arrow that scrolled around an open space with seperate “windows” of files and information. Essentially you could claim that Windows stole Macs idea…oh right they did.

    However nobody in this day and age really remembers that. The frivolous patents that Apple lays claim to are the issue here. Yes they are similar but there is only one way to build a wheel and there is only one way to make some of this stuff.

    I agree Samsung definitely leaned on the design ideas of Apple, but don’t car manufacturers do this every year? Don’t clothing manufactures receive “inspiration” from one another? Try and buy a fridge that doesn’t look like one made by the other manufacturers. Did Frigidaire patent the side by side door? If so they should definitely sue GE!

    • Mac versus PC is a good comparison, but remember, Apple and Microsoft went to court and ended up cross-licensing tons of patents to avoid suing each other into oblivion. There’s a good chance that will happen again.

  • Blades

    Everybody copies everybody in some way or another. The problem is, is that there are about 12 original ideas in this world and everything become a copy of everything or a branch off of something. Apple originally got/borrowed/stolen/whatever parts of it’s user “MacOS GUI interface w/Mouse” idea from the Xerox company way back in the day, Apple didn’t come up with that on there own, then Microsoft took elements of both those companies and IBM and that helped create Windows OS. Not to mention nowadays several different Web browsers out that have copied each other be it: Microsoft, Netscape, Chrome, Opera, Mozilla etc…. in some way or another. One will implement something, and the other will add it and label it something else, but its the same thing. Microsoft has “Folders” in Hotmail and yet Google mail calls them “Labels”…..same damn thing. In fact, I’m eating a bowl of APPLE BLASTS made by Great Value(Walmart) and it sooooo conveniently looks like the original APPLE JACKS from Kellogg’s in every way, down to the green box and the actual product look and taste. Where does it stop? It won’t sadly. So IMO neither one of these companies are the “poor innocent party”, they both have a habit of copying each other and other companies as well. Samsung just has the “money balls” to stand up to Apple. Does it make it right that Samsungs phones were at one time very similar to the Iphone? Absolutely not……but Apple isn’t exactly innocent when it comes to the “copying other companies game either”.

  • WickedToby741

    Yes, the original Galaxy S was a cheap attempt at imitating a lot of the iPhone. Between the central home button and cartoony icons designed to mimic Apple’s, it was a cheap attempt. Samsung has done a poor job innovating on the software side, but they’ve excelled at hardware innovation. It didn’t matter what the software looked like, Samsung was continually able to set and raise the bar for good Android hardware (internals, not design). Samsung matured a lot after the Galaxy S and started designing more distinct devices. They still resemble Apple devices in a simplicity sense, but they started gaining their own unique style culminating in what we now know as the GSIII.

    GSII, Note, GSIII. All successful phones for Samsung and with s string of mildy successful low end phones in between. Why do you think Google selected Samsung for the past two Nexus phones? It’s because they make great hardware. And don’t blame Motorola’s and HTC’s respective demises on Samsung. They dug their own graves. Both were successful early on with devices like the Droid and Evo, but their follow up devices were stale. Motorola soured customers by putting out a truly awful skin and then preventing people from removing it by locking bootloaders. HTC just had a generally lackluster stable of devices after the Evo, Incredible, and Nexus One.

    I mainly don’t want Samsung to lose this fight against Apple because I fear it’s implications towards them. This case will set a precedent, and if Samsung is found guilty it increases the chance other manufacturers will be too. If Samsung is proven innocent, then the innovations of others will almost surely guarantee they won’t fall victim to Apple either.

  • ds

    The Samsung’s documents showed some ways they needed improvements compared to iphone. Everyone needs to do that and it doesn’t mean copying. If there are better standard ways of UI, sometimes, you just need follow the trend rather than going for your own like Sony’s beta vs VHS, Dvorak keyboard vs QWERTY. I bought Motorola and Samsung phone because there are their own Android ways I like, not because it looked like or had UI like iphone

  • Thomas

    Hmm is seems to me mr. Ron dont like samsung a whole lot. I cant really see that samsung copied anything vital from apple. How is a non-iphone device supposed to look? Should it be round? Or triangular? Pretty absurd. All android phones has iconic represented applications… So has windows OS since windows 3.11 from the early 90’s. Should all other software developers then iOS developers be aloud only to use text-link representation of apps…. By the way does anyone has a patent on a textlink? It’s not really touchwiz that looks abit like iphone… Its android., the application drawer. By the way… All lcd tv’s looks the same to me they have 4 corners and a backlit screen, the same goes for smart phones, howcould it be any different. I think this article is nonsens, and i think apple would like to own the world.

  • Alexander Garcia

    ***THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE*** You’ve nailed it Ron! Best article on the Samsung vs Apple saga EVER! Cheers. =)

  • MissSmitten

    As technology progresses, devices are going to become slimmer, and more sleek and they’re going to come in more popular colors (i.e.: whites, which seems to be the most popular now).
    All because Apple “did it first”, do they really need to stifle the creative vision of other hardware designers? Every company wants to make a product that appeals to the masses, and if the masses want something slim, sleek and white, why not make a phone that’s just that. Yeah, there are similarities to the iPhone, but if Samsung didn’t put a big apple on the back of their phones, I hardly see how they “copied Apple”, mainly because those features are just so.. generic..
    The issue isn’t the fact “Samsung copied Apple”, the issue is Samsung made some devices that were just as sleek, but with better software, more features, that is half the price of an iPhone! Of course people are going to buy it!
    Rather than Apple getting all huffy-puffy and sue-crazy, what they should do is work on improving their software, add more features, and ultimately, LOWER THE PRICE! Apple feels like they’re losing their customers, and they are, but it’s not because Samsung phones are getting confused with iPhones, people who buy Samsung phones KNOW it’s not an iPhone, but Apple is losing customers because they’re starting to wise-up and they don’t want to pay premium price for a subpar device.

  • S Bosworth

    If anyone can honestly look at the design history of the companies, and say that they honestly believe that Samsung wasn’t heavily influenced the design of both the iPhone and iOS, They’re a better liar than I.

  • Fattie McDoogles

    I agree with the majority of the comments in here. Apple does like to cry foul for stuff that should most of the time be ignored. But I do agree with @ronoffringa:disqus too. Samsung blatantly copied Apple with the original GS. I do think they owe Apple some compensation for it. But after that. Samsung started to innovate for themselves. Apple needs to get over that as they have taken things from Windows in their computers and Android in their phones and iPods. Copying to an extent is part of innovation and comes with the territory as Apple demonstrates themselves. Stop crying over spilled milk and move on.

  • Steve Schneider

    Ever think by Samsung “copying” apple it could better the whole situation? Sure, Samsung copied apple but it also made a stronger rivalry in the android world and made Motorola and HTC step it up in both hardware and software. Not to mention it gives apple more competition… What people don’t always see is rivalry and stronger competition makes products better. So yeah, we should care that Samsung to the “lazy way” out of it, because plenty of people out their love touchwiz and don’t have to buy an apple product that’s way over priced and quite frankly inferior, just to have the feel of an iphone. Over all, I do care and I am grateful they took that rout. I will stick with my TW free gnex and be happy for the people who got any of the galaxy series devices, because they are still excellent pieces of work.

    • Jwhap

      People love touchwiz??? 🙂

  • AngryReader

    These Ron Opinion articles make me embarrassed to recommend this site to my friends.

  • Tristan Cunha

    This is probably the best review of the Samsung vs. Apple case I’ve read. I thnk it’s a great point that while no one (or hardly no one) actually thought they were buying an iPhone when they bought a Galaxy S, that Samsung took a lazy route and copied a bunch of design elements that worked together to make their phones more competitive. And you’re probably correct that it didn’t hurt Apple as much as other Android handset makers.
    This issues gets obscured for two reasons though. One, some of Apple’s patents are so crazy, and so broad, that no one thinks they can be valid. If they had more specific claims (and didn’t try to patent rectangles), their claim would be much clearer. And two, Samsung has moved beyound their copied designs, and is now selling distinctive phones of their own. They probably got a nice bump by not having to start from scratch, but at least now there’s no way to confuse an SIII with an iPhone4. In fact, all the phones that are being argued over now are a couple years out of date. This case may end up hurting Samsung with a big penalty, but its unlikely to affect their current lineup.
    It’s also important that this isn’t an Apple vs. Android issue, it’s Apple vs. Samsung, mostly Samsung’s hardware design, but also their custom skin. The similiarities between stock Android and iOS are all pretty clearly either prior art, or non-innovative, i.e., obvious.

  • chris420o

    This article hit the nail on the head and is exactly why i HATE SAMSUNG PHONES…the Motorola droid saved n gave birth to android…samsung made phones that exactly copied Apple to be successful which is why i hate them…its like do you want an iphone or a korean knockoff whicj is exactly what the galaxy phones are…not tk mention a quarter the quality of American made phones ie iphone and moto…i have a galaxy nexus for one single reason…the dev community otherwise id punt this samsung crap across the street…you guys defending samsung or your gs3s or w.e are simply blind and need to admit the facts i love android bc its everything apple isnt and samsung phones destroy that by trying tk be apple

    • tibs

      You do know that Iphone is not american made right?

      • chris420o

        Nothing is anymore your missing my point…american company making a quality build unlike samsung…i loathe apple but i call a square a square people defending samsung saying oh this that they didnt copy are worse then ifan boysis pathetic stop hating on ron for speaking truth your belittling Android with your ignorant comments

        • Tibs

          Truth be told i don’t live in America (i live in UK) so i am not so patriotic towards american brands as you are. However over here HTC and Moto and LG have had inferior products to Samsung for a long time (in terms of CPU/GPU/camera/battery/screen) and not the same variety (screen size) plus something like HTC Sensation was full of problems which Samsung never had. Moto is practically absent over here in Europe. Surely you can see how all these factors will count towards why all the other Android manufacturers are not doing too good?

  • DroidDoesnt_2

    One of the most reasoned, intelligent blogs that I’ve ever read……

  • Tibs

    Wow, what an overly simplistic way to try and explain Samsung success. How about the fact that :

    1) Motorola is basically absent anywhere but in US and their support (overseas at least ) is rubbish
    2) HTC up until say One X/S/XL was inferior to Samsung in CPU/GPU/Screen/Battery
    3) Samsung phones are slimmer with better screen. Also a fact is that Galaxy phones are smoother than the android competition part of the reason being maybe because they are developing the CPU in house#
    4) Sony/HTC were behind last year in terms coming out with dual core phones
    5) HTC had various problems last year with their flagship- Sensation like LG did with 2X
    6) Samsung came out with something like Note (5.3 inches screen) which their competition still doesn’t have

    Also some of the copied features like elastic band were removed from last year and yet the Samsung sales keep growing how do you explain that

    Now i am not condoning stealing and if Samsung did indeed steal from Apple they should pay for it however to say that Samsung owes its success to copying Apple is extremely simplistic to say the least

    • jj

      Your missing the point. Hes not diminishing Samsungs success. Hes merely saying the way it got started (copying Apple) was wrong. Everything subsequent is fine.

      • Tibs

        The Android ecosystem has been forever damaged by Samsung’s callous laziness. Samsung’s brazen copying of the iPhone didn’t hurt Apple nearly as much as it hurt other Android OEMs. .”

        More importantly, because it worked, the Android ecosystem as a whole has suffered and manufacturers that would have probably thrived through their own innovations are instead losing money every quarter. I have no doubt that companies like Motorola and HTC would be doing much better had Samsung decided to compete by actually innovating instead of lazily stealing ideas from Apple to get ahead. ”

        As per my quote from the article he is not just saying that- he is accusing Samsung for HTC/Moto failures completely overlooking the number of things both companies have done wrong in the last couple of years.

        • HTC and Moto did plenty of things to ensure their failure in the market, but it may not have been so bad had Samsung not copied Apple to get ahead. It’s hard to measure how much of an impact their copying had.

  • Kicko Kim

    I think that apple’s publicity campaign has been so invasive these last few years that companies have no choice other than copying apple products. People still use the word “iphone” instead of smartphone and don’t even know what a tablet is! Also macs are basically the only computers you see on tv. Apple brainwashed the world with it’s marketing strategy and now other manufactures have to deal with it!

  • tony

    this is an ingenious argument. didnt apple sue htc for copying in the days when htc lookd like the leading abdroid partner? apples target is not samsung but android. and by the way apple also copied from android. think notifications, multi tasking, multiple home screens

  • Gebinsk

    Samsung copied Apple like Embraer copied Airbus copied Dassault copied Convair copied Douglas copied Boeing. Sorry, but you’re just wrong. I’ve read all the coverage and compared the phones (and tablets) side-by-side, and at the end of the day the only conclusion a reasonable person can come to is that any similarities are organic.

    If not, then explain to me why Apple’s lawsuits against the Galaxy Tab are being dismissed left and right. If the phone is a facsimile, it stands to reason the tablet is too.

  • s9779

    Nice write up. Hit the nail on the head. Take another South Korean company like hyundai / kia. for year they ripped off style and tech from other automakers. now that they have benefited from the work of others they have established their own brand identities and have become very successful.

  • I have never liked Apple and their Itune strangle hold on content. If Samsung copied apple then they did a good job improving on the “original”. We will all see when the courts decide.

    I love my S3!!!