Blazing trails is hard work. Following them is easy. Whether you're an explorer, twin machetes in hand, hacking your way through the densest of underbrush, a developer launching a breakthrough app into a crowded app store, or a consumer electronics giant, packaging existing technologies in a way that finally makes them exciting and accessible to the mainstream, it can cost a fortune and take a tremendous amount of time and effort to bring a winning product to market.

And relatively little to copy it.

That's simply the reality of the modern market. Whether you're a boot-strapping indie dev who managed to produce a hit game only to see a giant gaming house replicate it almost exactly, or a mega corporation who releases market-changing -- even market-creating -- mobile devices only to see a string of like-designed products take over that market -- or at least make the attempt -- that's how the world works.

Samsung almost embarrassingly copied Apple products from power plugs to icons, mobile to desktop, and the massive manufacturing partners and retail competitors are now fighting it out in court solely to determine how much, if any, of that copying was legal. And Apple has copied their share of ideas and implementations as well over the years.

Indeed, innovation stands on the shoulders of what came before, great artists steal inspiration from the great artists that came before, and everything is a remix.

While that might suck for the indie dev who watches the replicated versions of their hard work hit the app store -- in some cases over and over again -- and it might suck for Apple seeing their delightful interface ideas get promiscuously given away for free, it changes nothing.

Even in the case of smash hits, innovators enjoy only a narrow lag between launch and replication to truly reap the profits of their creations. If something is good, if something works, if something is successful, it will be copied, it will be cloned, it will be knocked off. Is it really any coincidence that the company whose products copied Apple's the most have also been the most successful in their own platform space?

The only way to combat copyists and hold copying at bay is to take those windows of success and build on them, and do it in a way that's not as easy to copy.

That's why Apple doesn't just sell phones and tablets.

They sell iTunes and iCloud. They sell AirPlay and Siri. They sell an experience that becomes something that "just works" together. They sell something that, once you buy in, buying in even more provides even greater value than the sum of the parts.

You can own an iPad and a different company's phone or media box or computer. But owning an iPad and and iPhone and an Apple TV and a Mac brings you far greater value. Your apps look the same and work the same across your devices. Your music and movies and TV shows play across devices. Your personal information, browser tabs, and reading positions sync across everything you own.

You can download a network-sponsored app on your iPhone, have the same app just appear on your iPad, and your family can be AirPlaying any event in the Olympics on your big screen TV only minutes later.

That's just one example of many that Apple absolutely nails. It's functionality, customer experience, and brand affection that's non-trivial to copy. It's a product strategy that's almost incomprehensible to those who's strategy is to copy.

Right now, Apple is spending millions of dollars on lawyers, battling Samsung across continents, and revealing prototype devices and product histories they would never have otherwise revealed, because they're indignant that Samsung has copied the iPhone and iPad the way Samsung has likely copied refrigerators and countless other products for decades.

When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone he said Apple was 5 years ahead of the competition. Now, 5 years later, even the competition's best new devices can't match the multitouch user experience of iOS in consistency or quality, or the content of iTunes in accessibility or availability. But they are matching and even beating Apple when it comes to individual features and functionality.

Apple's reaction to Samsung is understandable on a very human level. Most of us have likely wished we could do the same thing when we've felt copied or ripped off. Including those who have felt copied by Apple.

It sucks, really and truly. But ultimately it's a losing battle at best, and a distraction at worst.

Tim Cook said Apple couldn't be the developer for the world, but the alternative is much, much worse.

Regardless of how Apple vs. Samsung plays out, or individual app copying plays out, it's not in the courtroom that innovation has to win. It's in the product design labs, go to market strategies, and retail shelves. Because the copying never stops. And the only thing worse than being copied is losing the ability to innovate and becoming a copyist.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments



Here's what bothers me. Apple is in a position where they are capable of innovating the competition into obscurity, but they are choosing instead to lawsuit them out of the market.

Apple fans will strongly object o this statement, but Apple products have been pretty stagnant for the last few generations while these "copycats" have made huge strides to catch up (and even surpass) them. People can whine about who copied who all they want, but just like every other look-alike consumer product, the focus should be iwhat you do next and not who did it first.

I don't disagree, though it's easier to say when you're not the one being copied. I do know that when I write something, and a couple days later someone else who's probably seen what I wrote writes something very similar, I feel a little bit of what I imagine Apple feels when they look at Samsung.

My reaction is to double down, work harder, look for deeper insight, and keep on writing. I'm an optimist -- I believe people can tell original from derivative work, and will eventually find the originators.

But that's not always or even often what happens. Often people don't know or care, and the copy enjoys a lot of success.

I can sympathize with that, and I can only imagine how it feels when it wasn't just 1000 words written over the course of an hour, but 10 years of peoples lives and billions of dollars in investments.

Unfortunately, I don't see a good answer, not for Apple, and not for a small developer who spends months and thousands of dollars on an app just to have a copycat hit the store weeks later.

Do you?

I can't agree with this. MS took the Mac OS and created an Office ecosystem that exists for today and into the near future. Even today, MS is relying on the Office and extended monopolies, to create a path for W8 and the Surface.

Apple didn't give anything away in this trial because Samsung was already taking everything of value from them. What Apple gave away is the hard work which Samsung was never willing to do.

This leaves Apple in a position where they always have to innovate while Google and MS can rely on monopolies to sustain them. A creative solution take time. Far more time than it does to copy it. Apple took a decade a decade to create the iPhone and iPad and a copycat was available within 1.5 years with a G1. Google even managed to convince T-Mobile and Verizon to adapt the iPhone and give the carriers less control.

Rene, I agree that the copying will happen. However, I think Samsung kind of crossed an invisible line, even for copying (remember when they set up their booths with images of actual App Store apps?). The problem is that if no smack-down happens, the copying will continue to get even more brazen. This might not stop it, but it might slow it down a bit and make companies think twice, or at least put a bit of creativity into not being so obvious about it.

I feel the problem with the trial and with the media coverage is that people are treating this like a sporting event and rooting for their "team" with no regard as to how this would all turn out if the courts fail to stop a single company from owning something as basic as "how a product looks".

I'd love to see an article about what products have historically been patented and where the iPhone/iPad fit in? For example, take things like The Segway, the Philips Screwdriver, The Microwave or HDTV's.

Something like the Segway and Philips Screwdriver make sense to patent because clearly they are unique devices that blazed their own path. But the DESIGN of Microwaves or HDTV's are not because they follow a standardized look that was popularized by consumer choice. So between these consumer products then where does the iPhone lean more towards? Is it a unique design that does a single and specific task like a Philips Screwdriver? Is it a mass of technological breakthroughs that were put together specifically to create a unique product like the Segway? Or is it simply an appliance like the the Microwave Oven that shares the exact same design elements as it's competitors since they all perform the exact same function.

Take away the whole Apple fanaticism and clearly the iPhone/iPad is an appliance. It views webpages. It plays 3rd party apps. It displays books and movies. And it's designed to be portable and used with the hands. So it's primary job is to do a job that is universally shared among it's competitors. So just like FORCING every Microwave Oven to be unique would end up hurting it's primary function (a slot loading Microwave wouldn't fit my rotisserie chicken), FORCING every phone/tablet to look different than a touchscreen slab would make these products less functional.

And that is what this trial (and especially the media) should be questioning. This shouldnt be whether or not Samsung was "inspired" by the iPhone. It should be about why every other consumer product out there can look alike despite its manufacturer EXCEPT the iPhone and iPad? Because if Apple wins the patent to such basic design elements then they will hold the power to control the market through enforcing a patent to charge for "their design" OR by killing a potential competing product by taking it into lengthy court battles. And thats not good for anyone…. except Apple.

I agree. I feel like Apple is dribbling out just a few new upgrades and features with each new phone and iOS. Lots of users I know have been wanting a bigger screen and customizable springboard for a couple of years now.

But Apple appears to have now backed away from step changes in their product development/release cycles and are milking what they have over as long as they can.

I believe the new Windows 8/Surface/WP8 could be a danger for Apple, especially when I envision doing real work on my upcoming Surface tablet with a high degree of integration with other devices. If the price point on these devices is competitive, my iPad will be for sale and if Windows Phone 8 gets market momentum, my iPhone will be on eBay as well.

The next 6 months could change the market dynamics drastically and Apple may have dragged their feet for too long this time.

iOS has become stale and bored from my perspective.

Unfortunately, I tend to agree with you about iOS becoming almost boring. It's sad that they're making little tweaks to the design and releasing it as a new product. But at their best, MS, Google, anything Android will never match Apple's smooth interface, and THAT is why I will always buy Apple. Also, part of the reason, I believe, that they're a tad behind with new technologies, is that they typically nearly perfect something before releasing it. So they don't start selling a half-cocked machine.

Is iOS becoming boring? I'd like Apple to add a few more bells and whitles to iOS but at the same time I don't expect them to because Apple is not about bells and whitles... It as all about user experience, minimalism, coherency and the like. This is they philosophy. People get bored because of perceived immobility but a device by itself is not the whole story... The ecosystem is.

I'm really sick of the iOS is boring mantra that is floating around. I'm curious what would make it "exciting"? I think people see widgets and live aquarium backgrounds and think that is exciting. I think its really really dumb. You don't have stupid stuff like that on your Mac's or PCs. No one uses dashboard or has live wallpaper on their computers. So why are they so stuck on wanting that crap on their phones. Most of the useful information found in widgets is now in Notification Center. You get weather, calendar, outstanding messages and mail and with iOS 6 social media integration. What else do you need? If you can't find great apps that are exciting to run in iOS you have a major problem.

Also on the innovation questions. Look Apple has a long term plan. They are not looking at what other companies one and letting it affect what they are trying to accomplish. They have a roadmap and are sticking to it. Thats the difference between them and their competitors. Their competitors are looking at what Apple is doing and copying the best parts and adding on nerd features to appease both audiences. When in fact most of the times its half baked and superseded by what the carriers want to do with it.


Fed Up with Whiners about iOS Being "Boring"

Everyone says iOS is getting stale but the problem is that though Android and the Windows Phone platform might be bringing out new stuff users' devices wont get it until the carrier decides it's time or without buying a new device. It took a year! for the 1st Windows Phone update to hit some, some devices. On Android dear lord I don't even want to go into that so although the platform has great stuff what good is it if you can't get it? As an iOS user atleast I know that the minute Apple tells me about the new stuff in iOS I'll get it a few months later. On Apple older devices continue to get the iOS updates for about a year albeit without every new feature but atleast the device isn't obsoleted a year after release.

I can't agree with this. Pretty stagnant the past few years? Would you care to elaborate?

iOS 5 brought icloud, Siri, and a host of new features to iOS. The 4S was changed in every way but appearance to be the fastest iphone ever seen.

The ipad 2 slimmed down and pretty much killed products like the Touchpad (although HP helped) and made Samsung go back to the drawing board. The ipad 3 brought the world's best display we've seen seen in a consumer device for under 500 dollars.

iOS 6 combined with the new iphone will continue Apple's stranglehold on milking this smartphone industry for the profits. The competition is still years behind building products with weak foundations. The competition has to rely on pricing gimmicks, carriers willing to help them, and large screens to remain viable to its mostly ignorant buyers.

Innovation is not rushing out half baked features that don't work worth a damn. It's not changing the design annually to appease a few idiots crying that it looks the same. It's not innovation to introduce a million form factors that further fragment the ecosystem. It's not innovative to make the screen so large that you start to lose sight of what you are making (a phone). It's not innovation to add so many unneeded features that the OS becomes something that conflicts with Apple's main goal or introduces other problems. To keep things simple in order to reach the masses.

It takes time to set down foundations to leverage later. Apple just released Mountain Lion that taps into some of these foundations.

I can't tell you how many android buyers I've seen who, to be frank, don't have a freaking clue how to use their phone. But it's got a big screen darn it and it was free (that's android's main innovation). You just feel like smacking em upside their head. These are the same people who will whine a few weeks what do i do? do i get an app? How do i get movies on here? How come I can't facetime? Duh, where'd my contacts go?

Of course, you have to ask..why didn't you get an iphone? The answer is almost always "because i couldn't afford it."

A question you have to ask. If HP put more bloatware on a PC to try to differentiate their products, would you be praising them for being innovative? Heck no, you can't reinstall windows fast enough to get rid of that crap. Why in the world then would you rush to buy a Samsung galaxy phone loaded to the hilt with bloatware? TouchWiz, s-note, chaton, social hub, samsung media hub, S Voice, S Memo, S Suggest, Allshare...the list goes on. All Samsung bloated crapware. Between the carrier and Samsung, I think you get around 55 preinstalled bloatware apps, some of which can't be uninstalled. This is truly innovative right?

Dear cardfan - Your position is so polarised that I tend to dismiss your specific points out of hand. You insult Android users as if they are all idiots (far from true, they seem to exist in both camps). I bought my S2 SIM free in the UK, mainly to stay out of carrier control and avoid carrier crapware. Though I am not a code cruncher I manage to use it quite easily and, for for the tasks that matter to me, it has proved to be a good device.

Android gives user options Apple deliberately locked you out of. That is why I rejected iOS last summer. Managing files on Android is superior, memory can be expanded and I am NOT a prisoner of iTunes, like you.

For some users iOS and Apple are the best choice, for others Android has serious advantages and people should be free to choose. Clearly Apple have consistently tried to kill that choice for purely commercial reasons. Their megolmart attitude is clear, so was the source of it.

I respect Rene, but disagree with his conclusions (above); I consider you post rude and somewhat out of date.

I have an innate disdain for the clash of attorney titans, but I think you are missing the most obvious yet hardest to explicitly and concisely define point that separates Apple from the others, which is overall design aesthetic, ergonomics and integration. There is no other company out there to date that creates the multi-device, multi-application integration as elegantly as Apple. MS cobbles their apps together with chewing gum and paper clips....just installed Office 365 and while better than 5 years ago, both the overall system integration and each app still "feels" like it is 15 year old tech.

While others copy specifics of Apple products, everything else out there is bolt-on tech. When companies truly start to understand Apple and their success then they will more and more start to copy the Apple product culture. That is somewhat of an intangible as it is more gestalt than specific patent. But if you work harder than anyone else to create a unified, graceful and intuitive system only to have it copied by "me too" pirates then you have no recourse but to exercise your legal rights to protect those specifics in order to better preserve your unique system.

Apple's focus on what to do next is not more bling. It is and will hopefully remain, a focus on the entire system. This means not building the largest, fastest, most cluttered tool shed in the tech world but instead improving on the entire system with each incremental release. When Apple starts running the hardware specification and gadget race to grab headlines then they have dropped to the lowest common denominator and have lost their way.

Samsung's being sued. If they lose, which it looks like its heading that way based on their own internal documents, what do you think will happen? Samsung, will stop bringing their revolutionary products to market? Yea they may make good products, but they currently arent leading innovation. The feature checklist? Maybe. Apple isn't being anticompetitive against Samsung. Apple wants smartphones to be different and unique. Samsung wants to turn smartphones into refrigerators. A market where consumers can't tell you on the spot what kind of refridgerator they have, they only look for the cheapest price because they all do the same. A market where products have names like FGH7382938Z, support would horrible and you are interested in dealing with those products. I mean as a consumer you can't say you want that because when it gets to that point there's no looking to the future because companies become about bottom lines first. I think that's Samsung's goal because it will favor those who can produce the most the cheapest. Which Samsung would have a huge advantage in. And innovations do happen every year, the term is not meant to be used loosely just because someone has a good product.

Rene, a very well-balanced article. It's nice to see that even a fan of a certain product can also see the flaws as well. As a side note, I am also a member on Android Central and Crackberry (Currently own a BlackBerry but doing my due diligence...) and the Mobile Nations crew are to be commended for honest reporting.

Apple can lay claim that they redesigned the mobile platforms and that they have been copied. And while I can see how that could be frustrating, this just seems a little too late. Samsung and even BlackBerry have had "similar" looking smartphones for a few years. To just now start levying suits seems like they have realized they are no longer the innovator and instead of pushing the boundaries are going to push people to the back of the line.

All that being said, Apple has the most stable OS-to the best of my knowledge-as well as the easiest cross-platform functionality. And this is a solid selling point. But Apple needs to be careful to not rely on this too long. The modern day consumer is not one that values consistency. They value panache. Apple taught us all that with the first iPod. They need to remember that.

So, I understand the need to sue. I do. I just hope that they are also working as hard or harder to bring us the next big thing or the copiers are going to leave them behind...

The reality is...these lawsuits have nothing to do with copying. Apple is using lawsuits to try and fight their competitors instead of competing by improving their products. Samsung is really competitive with Apple... last quarter they sold twice as many phones as Apple.

Apple has been really lazy with their new products lately... and the general public is starting to realize that now. There are so many Samsung Galaxy S3 owners who used to be iPhone users!

You will notice that there are other companies that do things Apple are accusing Samsung of doing... but you won't see Apple taking them to court because they aren't a threat to Apple. Samsung is the maker of the best Android devices... and Apple's biggest threat.

I think it's really sad to watch Apple try and stay competitive by taking people to court. A couple days ago I was watching the original iPhone introductory press conference. That press conference was full of innovation and showed features on the original iPhone that just made you say WOW!

Apple needs to be like that again... instead of just taking people to court

And nobody is gonna pick up a Samsung Galaxy S3 and confuse it for an iPhone!

While I agree with you, it's not that simple.

Let's say you spent 10 years and a billion dollars making that 2007 iPhone moment. How much faster is it, and less expensive is it, to just copy that?

If it takes Apple 10 years a billion dollars to innovate, how can they stay ahead of people spending 1 year and a billion dollars to copy? It becomes a weight dragged behind them.

And it's a bigger issue that just Apple -- how do small developers justify making great apps when someone can just copy them and remove any profit incentive they had to create it?

Hi, straight to the point, But after the iPhone and iPad booming they got more money, so if they can do those great things with less money why can't they doing it again with greater funding and better point of start compares to samsung. If I only live once, and I know I do, I don't want spending it on sueing someone, i want to innovate, especialy if I got the tallent and chances and their confident, backed by great success comeback history from an almost collapse company. Sueing only slowing ones down, and didnt relate to customer experience.

Sent from my New iPad with Google email while charged beside my sgs3.
Sorry for my english.

Apple opened a huge market with the success of the iPhone. Of course everyone was going to follow. Some of the patent lawsuits -- those around specific, new innovations -- are appropriate and necessary. But this lawsuit with Samsung is one of Apple's dumbest moves. Apple is actually helping Samsung. The nuances of design and look and feel and previous work are not easily plucked into a simple message about technology, particularly one that clearly points to Apple over Samsung. The simple message that does come across is that Apple is isolated, whiny, and picking on Samsung because of market success. Apple has done the impossible. They are making Samsung look like the victim. Dumb, dumb, dumb move by Apple.

All Apple needs to do is keep making great products. That's the Apple I choose to support with my consumer choices. This current Apple is looking like something completely different. Perception matters.

I check most of the mobile nations sites on a daily basis. The only one I avoid is the WP Central site, and not because of the posts but because of the user commentary… because the comments tend to sound a lot like this. I understand this is an editorial and by definition you can fill it with unfounded opinion after opinion, but this was unequivocally the worst article I've ever read from any of the Mobile Nations sites. That statement actually is a pretty big statement coming from me because I've always felt your articles are some of the best written and well thought out posts available regarding any mobile platform. Hearing you start in on this ridiculous "Sammy copied Apple" crap irks me as much as these little kids griping about that PlasticBieber twitter crap. It's a broken record… and playing a broken record is a pretty stupid decision when you have other albums to choose from. But then to follow that up with an asinine remark insinuating that Sammy probably copies how other companies make refrigerators… that not only makes you sound incredibly foolish, but also serves as a perfect illustration of how this whole topic is idiotic. Explain to me how a refrigerator would be designed in any fashion other than how it currently is? It wouldn't, if it were done it would simply be done to look different but not to improve on it's ability to meet consumer need. Mobile electronics have been destined to become flat, thin, rectangular, touch screen devices… read or watch any tech based sci fi story going back decades. Conseptually speaking Apple has simply copied what authors dreamed up years and years ago. They may have been the first company to successfully implement the design in a way that could deliver the product to the masses efficiently, but the idea was not theirs, the form was not theirs, only the execution and decision on the materials used were truly theirs. Is Star Trek suing Apple because the iPad is a copy of what ST presented as mobile computing units? Is Ford suing GM because their vehicles are all a copy of what Henry Ford first created? Apple used to be truly be an innovative company that pushed the boundaries of what technology could do, and those were good times. But something has happened within the company that has tossed them back into the dark ages and rather than develop and innovate, they are trying to trip everyone else up with red tape and the legal system because they'd rather stifle advancement than strive to keep up with those who have decided to pick up and move forward with the dreams and ideals that Apple dropped somewhere along their way. This, my good sir, is my editorial. I am an Apple user, we have two iPhones, an iMac,two Apple IIc's and an Apple IIe, I've had at least a dozen BlackBerrys, I dearly miss WebOS, and I have an Android painted on my 7 month old son's wall. I'm not a fanboy of any one platform, I'm a fanboy of all smart phone innovation. I say that to assure you that I'm not just coming over from AC to start an argument or anything, but I think it's time to man up and rise above this Sammy vs. Apple crap. It's all hipocracy and we should be intelligent enough to move beyond it.

Rene - I think your "twin machetes in hand" analogy, irrationally simplifies the situation. It's like trying to sum the entire development of rocketry while only referring to Sergei Korolev and Wernher Von Braun. You shape your argument around your opinion; most of us do - this is NOT proof dude!

Current mobile operating systems have fifteen families plus god knows how many aunts and uncles; most of them dead! The hardware development family tree is even more complicated. Now . . . one hyper-rich family claims to own the entire world, plus the moon and Mars (when they get there)!

No wonder we have endless warfare, in the face of such profound greed and self regard.
One planet - Many solutions, is both saner and better.

Re: "Many solutions, is both saner and better."

And more innovation, once the copying stops. "Innovation" isn't the same as "imitiation."

If Apple wins, there will be less copying. Competitors will be free to differentiate their products, possibly in ways that beat Apple's products. If Samsung is found innocent, then there will be a flood of iPhone and iPad look-alikes.

Tell me again why you would want the latter.

So you've already condemned Samsung? As I expected. This is an Apple centric site.
This case is about power - - not copying. That is the nub of the problem.
Apple want to OWN mobile and dictate terms to the world. Hitler once wanted that.
I oppose that attitude; and the consequences which would flow from it.
This case is based on a conveniently huge lie. so Apple did copy the tactic - does that count?

Seamless experience and intuitive user integration? Then why can't I create a mixed library of flac files and MP3 files and Play them back in the same playlist in iTunes without voiding my warranty?