4 Ways Samsung Is Still Copying Apple

PARK JI-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images

PARK JI-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images

It’s no secret that Apple’s introduction of the first iPhone in 2007 revolutionized the mobile phone industry. Although the iPhone wasn’t the first mobile phone to feature a touchscreen interface, the popularity of the device led many other companies to ditch physical keyboard phone designs in favor of touchscreen interfaces. Perhaps the most notorious example of a company that altered its phone designs in response to the iPhone is Samsung.

Apple’s claims that Samsung was blatantly copying its products led to a long-running series of court battles that kicked off when the Cupertino-based company filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against Samsung in 2011. In 2012, a California jury confirmed what seemed obvious to many industry observers and awarded Apple more than $1 billion in damages. Another patent-infringement court battle between the two companies that ended last year resulted in a $119.6 million damages award for Apple, as well as a $158,400 award for Samsung. Although Apple technically won the last round, the much smaller damages amount that it was awarded appeared to spark a slight reduction of hostilities in the so-called “smartphone patent wars.” Later that year, Apple and Samsung announced a patent truce that ended all litigation between the two companies outside the U.S., reports The Wall Street Journal.

Whether or not you believe that all of Apple’s patent-infringement claims against Samsung were justified, there is no question that the Korea-based company has sometimes followed Apple’s lead. On the other hand, Samsung has also made moves that Apple has followed. Last year, Apple finally launched a phablet-sized iPhone model after Samsung popularized the phablet category with its line of large-screen Galaxy Note devices. However, Samsung has recently made several announcements that suggest the company may once again be following in Apple’s footsteps. Here are four ways Samsung may still be copying Apple.

Source: global.samsungtomorrow.com

Source: global.samsungtomorrow.com

Smartphone design: thinner and made of metal

While Apple may not hold a patent on thinness or on metal, it seems fairly apparent that Samsung is following Apple’s design cues in this respect. Samsung first introduced prominent metal design elements into its smartphone designs last year when it introduced the Galaxy Alpha.

“It’s the first Samsung Galaxy smartphone with a high-quality metal frame and luxury look and feel,” stated Samsung. The company also noted that the device is “the sleekest Samsung Galaxy smartphone ever.” While the Galaxy Alpha only features a metal-framed casing, Samsung introduced smartphones with full metal casings later that year with the Galaxy A3 and Galaxy A5. In January, the company announced the Galaxy A7, which features a metal casing that is just 6.3 millimeters thick and a 64-bit octa-core processor, according to SamMobile.

While these phones may not infringe on Apple’s patents, it should be noted that the iPhone has historically emphasized metal elements in its design. Apple also pioneered the use of 64-bit processors in smartphones when it introduced the A7-powered iPhone 5S in 2013. More recently, Apple has marketed its flagship smartphone by emphasizing its thinness. Apple trumpeted the “dramatically thin and seamless design” of it latest iPhone model, as well as its “precision unibody enclosure of anodized aluminum.” Taken all together, the similarities between the design and marketing of the latest Galaxy phones and the latest iPhones seem to suggest that Samsung is once again following Apple’s lead.

Apple Watch with Digital Crown

Source: Apple.com

Smartwatch design

Since Samsung has brought a half-dozen different smartwatch models to market since September 2013, the company can hardly be accused of copying Apple when it comes to wrist worn wearable tech. That is, until it releases its next model. According to insider sources cited by SamMobile, Samsung’s upcoming smartwatch – codenamed Orbis – will feature a “crown-shaped power button” that resembles the Digital Crown found on the Apple Watch.

Although Samsung may be copying Apple with the inclusion of a crown component on its next smartwatch model, it doesn’t appear that the Samsung’s version of the crown will provide the same functions as Apple’s Digital Crown. According to Apple, the Digital Crown provides “an innovative way to scroll, zoom and navigate fluidly, without obstructing the display,” as well as quick way to access Siri.

On the other hand, Samsung’s version of the crown will only operate as a power button. However, Samsung’s smartwatch may feature a rotatable bezel ring that could offer scrolling and zooming functions much like Apple Watch’s round Digital Crown does.

Source: Apple.com

Source: Apple.com

Fingerprint scanner design

Soon after Apple introduced the Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5S, Samsung introduced its own fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S5. However, while Apple’s Touch ID system relies on a sapphire-covered sensor on which a user presses their entire fingertip down, Samsung uses a narrower sensor that works by having the user swipe their fingertip across it.

Some reviewers criticized Samsung’s system for requiring a user to swipe their finger over the sensor, since that motion is difficult to do if a user is holding a phone with one hand. Reviewers at The Verge also noted that Samsung’s system “was very particular about the speed and orientation of the swiping motion used — if we weren’t doing a perfectly straight swipe down, it would refuse to unlock the phone.”

Now it appears that Samsung will be abandoning its swipe-based approach to fingerprint scanning in favor of a system that sounds suspiciously similar to Apple’s Touch ID system. According to “highly credible sources” cited by SamMobile, Samsung is planning on implementing a touch-based sensor for its upcoming Galaxy S6. Like Apple’s Touch ID-enabled devices, Samsung’s new fingerprint sensor will be incorporated into a larger home button that allows a user to press down their entire fingertip.

Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

New lead designer

In a move that may signal more “Apple-like” design initiatives in the future, Samsung has hired a designer from the same firm that renowned Apple product designer Jony Ive used to work at. Samsung recently hired Lee Don-tae, the former co-CEO of London-based design firm Tangerine, reports The Korea Herald. According to the Korea Joongang Daily, “Samsung expects Lee to bring Tangerine’s design ‘DNA’ to the company as Ive did at Apple.”

Apple recruited Ive from Tangerine in 1992 after he came up with designs for the company’s early PowerBook computer, reports TIME. Ive went on to design some of Apple’s most successful and iconic products, including the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Now it appears that Samsung is hoping lightning will strike twice with a fellow Tangerine alumnus. “Lee will be in charge of leading innovation of overall and general design of Samsung products including smartphones,” stated an unnamed Samsung official, per the Korea Joongang Daily.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS

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