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The difference between Apple and Samsung industrial design

Galaxy S9

Three years later and Samsung either doesn't care about building aligned products from the ground (or board) up, or doesn't know how. The Galaxy S9:

And here's how it compares to Apple's latest, the iPhone X.

Galaxy S8

Two years later and Samsung has to have finally gotten the ports and buttons aligned, right? Not so much. The just-announced Galaxy S8, sadly:

Galaxy S7

So, a year later, did Samsung get their ports and buttons in order? From the looks of the just-announced Galaxy S7, not so much.

The ports, microphones, speakers, jacks, and other elements still don't line up. Not even close.

Galaxy S6

It's a quote from the late Steve Jobs' father intended to help instill pride in craft. Jony Ive, Apple's senior vice president of design, has spoken numerous times about the importance and inevitability of great design as well, about the care and consideration it takes, and how people notice it even when they don't notice themselves noticing it.

Recently there was a brouhaha about a Qualcomm sticker junking up the Samsung Galaxy S6 on Verizon. You don't see a sticker like that on the iPhone 6 or any other iPhone, of course, because Apple cares more about the look of their product than the licensing fees or other considerations refusing it entails. Same with Intel Inside stickers on the Mac.

But when I looked at the picture of Samsung's product, it wasn't the sticker that bothered me so much. That, I assume, can be peeled off. It was something else I saw that bothered me, and something I can now never un-see.

It's the lack of basic alignment.

Here's the top image again, this time with lines drawn through the center points. The sticker isn't even put on straight, which seems unimaginable given modern production equipment.

I thought maybe it had something to do with the "edge" design, so I checked out the non-edge version as well.

Same thing. Since the iPhone 6 is in the same photo, the lack of basic alignment is even more noticeable. In case it was just the bottom, I took a look at the top as well.

And the side.

Almost nothing is aligned.

Some people might not care. Like painting the back of the fence or finishing the underside of the cabinet, it's a detail that only people who take tremendous pride in craft really care about. And, of course, people who look for just exactly that kind of quality.

That's because it takes an incredible amount of time and resources to achieve it. It takes an incredible amount of planning and coordination as well. It also takes the willingness to not do something if you feel doing it right is important enough.

To align everything along the edge of a device takes designing and mounting the boards in a certain way, and the ports and speakers, and the buttons and jacks, and the grills and every other detail so they all line up at exactly the right place at the end. Painstaking is likely an understatement.

Is it worth the effort? For me, as a customer, knowing that Apple had the consideration and took the time and effort to align their hardware speaks to the overall quality of their work. It reassures me that the same consideration and effort were likely spent making sure not a millimeter nor milliamp of battery space was wasted, not a nanometer of die, not a gap left around the screen, or a dead zone in the capacitive sensor.

Sure, problems crop up with every product, but like James Cameron says, when you aim unbelievably high, even your failures surpass other people's successes.

Again, I realize this won't matter to some people, and will serve as fodder for jokes for others. Software stability, some will no doubt cry. Yet bits can and are fixed. Software gets updated and services invisibly improved. Atoms, not so much. There's no magic patch that will ever bend those elements back into alignment. They, and owners, are stuck like that forever.

That's why it matters to me, and along with other things like privacy and security, better apps, Apple Stores and Apple Care, and a great Google experience and the best Microsoft experience, means it's absolutely something anyone who cares about design and quality should factor into their decision to switch to iPhone.

I had the chance to spend several evenings with the Galaxies S6 recently and while Samsung ditched a ton of differentiation to offer a more iPhone-like product. Android stalwarts will bemoan the lack of removable battery, the lack of SD card support, and the lack of waterproofing. My reaction was to bemoan the lack of deep, detail oriented design culture and pride in craft.

Because once you know the back of the fence wasn't painted, not only can you never un-know it, you can never stop wondering what else wasn't given that same care and consideration.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

384 Comments
  • Seriously Rene get a life. Switch to iPhone because stuff on the Samsung doesn't line up. OK I am off to buy an iPhone because of this - not ! I would get an iPhone if I found it better for my needs not because stuff is not straight on a Samsung phone. And no I don't have a Samsung phone. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Wahhhh someone on a apple fan site made a pro-apple article. I better go whine on the comment section about it!! Sent from the iMore App
  • I know terrible right. Just seemed a wee bit silly of an article. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • now i am an apple fan and use many apple products but this article was a bit ridiculous I have been a a fan of the switch to iphone articles because most have been valuable but the samsung s6 is one of the best built android phones and a joy to use so to criticize the fact that samusing did not make everything line up in a straight line is a bit silly.
  • +1 Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • It's no accident that people who post silly comments seem to lack basic english skills.
  • Yep true. Also doesn't help that I am dyslexic and should really check what I have written about 19 times over to check it makes sense. As you can imagine this can be rather annoying and frustrating. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Just ignore him dude. He's an ass.
  • english spells with a capital E...dont accuse others for your own inefficiencies
  • **"English" is spelt with a capital "E". Don't accuse others for your own inefficiencies. There, I fixed that for you, Captain Irony.
  • There are many Apple fans who are so because of the incredibly meticulous attention to detail Apple products often get, and it's this obsession with design on Apple's part, and lack of on Samsung's part, that this article is referencing. You don't have to care, but the article has a right to exists on a site like this. I too am surprised that nothing on the Samsung is aligned, shows they didn't bother to work on the engineering to that degree of precision to make sure it did. It goes along with and proves Apple's age old principle - that even things most customers will never see or notice should be done perfect and beautiful, etc...
  • The same thing some people feel about cars. Real car buyers will buy a car just for the lines.
  • Another idiot isheep!
  • Cool comment. Infantile and devoid of substance. Grow up. Sent from the iMore App
  • Oh sorry your little feelings were hurt. Facts are hard to handle. But your response comment is very grown up and full of substance. Keep up the good work.
  • MORON!!!!!!
  • Great comment, very thought out and adds a lot to the discussion. You are obviously very smart.
  • Nice. And you're not an ignorant Samsung Sheep or Fandroid? Seems when any idiot fanboy has no response, like a child they resort to name calling and yelling. You guys are so pathetically amusing.
  • Sorry but to all smartphone owners iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, or Windows you all gonna hang this fine crafted beautiful looking devices on a wall or you gonna use it for what it was meant to be used for....a smartphone!!!!! I will be honest but what good is having a beautiful phone when as soon as that baby drops you better have $100-$150 to fix the screen and whatever else got damaged! This article is a joke and so is the ranting!
  • You can have both. Have functionality. And have art that you carry with you. Like most nice things, it can get expensive when you damage them.
  • You can have both. Apple has always had great design, now they're finally starting to catch up to Android in Functionality. The still have a bit to go but the latest phones and version of iOS were a big step forward. I still prefer Android but someday I might change my opinion.
  • Samsung did not align the lines as that would make Samsung phones too similar to iPhone design. They would get sued again. May be uneven lines will save their @$$ against another lawsuit Sent from the iMore App
  • LOL! Exactly. Straight lines are an Apple "patented" design I bet. Just like a rectangular shape with rounded curves. If Apple was to put into their software what they put into the "design" of the phone, iOS would be terrific. But sad to say...it's not.
  • A lot of people love iOS and prefer it to Android. That's why there are statistically far more switchers to iPhone from Android than the other way around. Your comment is based on your own opinion about the platforms, whereas this article is about subjective fact of no physical elements lining up.
  • Apple never "patentened" round corners. The Fandroids are one ones twisting the arguments. Samsung made their mobile devices similar to Apple's - Samsung has done this repeatedly in the past and occasionally they get sued for it. This would be like Ford making their Mustang looking like a Camaro or Corvette... and GM would be right to sue Ford for copying GM's trade dress.
  • i absolutely believe they probably looked at it and said let's not worry about it because not only will it save us time and money from a design and engineering standpoint, but it will probably also distinguish our product from Apple in general...i don't have a huge problem with it, but it does look better when it's straight (OCD talking).
  • obviously people are too stupid to understand the article. They can't comprehend what "attention to detail" means or why it matters. mediocre is good 'nuff.
    Don't paint the back of the fence, ain't nobody gunna see it....
  • the problem is that the article is making assumptions, big ones. now, if the author was able to obtain some evidence that the designers overlooked this aspect and that the alignment was completely accidental, then fine, that's an issue and the article calls it out phenominally, BUT, if Sammy did it purposefully to try and keep their design just a tiny bit less similar to the iPhone 6, then they don't deserve the criticism. there's no evidence that they didn't "paint the back of the fence" here, all conjecture.
  • It does look rather shitty.
  • yes it does..
  • It's attention to detail. You either get it or you don't. If you don't get it you never will....
  • Part of the Cult Of Apple is the aesthetics of their designs. As silly as it may seem, this is what Rene is pointing out here. Apple cares about the aesthetics of form as much as the technical quality of function. In and of itself, as you said, not a reason to switch. But taken as a whole, along with everything else? It speaks volumes about the overall quality of the product.
  • Honestly, it doesn't. It is merely reaching, grasping at anything to justify brand loyalty. Instead of admitting that it is merely brand loyalty. Especially since this alleged "attention to design" does not result in an actually better or even aesthetically more pleasing product. In this corner: glass back, Quad HD screen with curved edges
    In this corner: holes lined up and drilled to precision. Something that you will never see if you are one of the 99% of people who buys a case. And puts on the case immediately to protect your curved Quad HD screen. Sorry. It is nothing but brand loyalty. Which is fine. I prefer Kellogs over General Mills too.
  • I think you might be reaching to ignore attention to detail.
    There either is attention to detail or there isn't. Choice of a glass back or not is not "attention to detail", that's a materials choice. Quad HD screen is also not attention to detail, that is a feature - and stupid one that wastes battery and GPU effort for something no one sees even more so than lined up holes. After 375-400ppi, no human can see pixels with the unaided eye, so why waste power on pushing around so many more?? The reason is marketing, and Samsung and HTC and the rest of the Android heavy hitters have unfortunately gotten lost in this marketing bullet point race to claim they all have more pixels because it's one of the few ways they can differentiate in a commoditized platform. I'm waiting for when one of them will put in a 1000ppi screen and fanboys will rejoice