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The Great Smartphone War (vanityfair.com)
84 points by IBM on May 3, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 79 comments



This article simplifies things to the point of being wrong.

"Patented features such as “rubber-banding,” in which a screen image bounces slightly when a user tries to scroll past the bottom, were identical. Same with “pinch to zoom,” which allows users to manipulate image size by pinching the thumb and forefinger together on the screen."

Jeff Han was doing pinch-to-zoom well before the iPhone was unveiled. I suspect that anyone that had access to a low-latency multi-touch screen would come up with it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqXPD7EHDto

"Under way since 2004, the effort constituted one of the biggest gambles in the history of the company: a cell phone with full Internet, e-mail functions, plus a host of unprecedented features."

Actually, there were many smartphones with all the iPhone's features, and more, at the time it was first released. The original iPhone didn't have apps, it didn't have MMS, etc. What it did have was a fully-capable browser, and a well-done low-latency multi-touch interface. In any case, it really wasn't about "features". Quality of implementation, yeah, features, no.

This article is just going to give lots of lay-people the wrong impression about the history of the iPhone.


People always bring up Jeff Han as a means of questioning Apple's multitouch patents. His famous TED demo was in 2006. Apple bought Fingerworks in 2005, a commercial multitouch company that was founded in 1998 based on research from earlier in that decade.


If Fingerworks didn't patent the feature before then, then it was public domain by the time it was demonstrated.

Though frankly, it would still be a BS patent.


It also makes it sound like Samsung created an operating system from scratch. I'd say large parts of this story are fiction.


My HTC WinCE device had internet and email years before the iPhone happened. The only reason I wasn't using it then was exorbitant data plans in Australia at the time.

Most fanboys narratives about the iPhone are complete garbage. There were plenty of early adopters using devices which had many similar features.

Heck, the entire "slate" profile is rip-off from the HP iPaQ, which broke ground in PDA circles by adopting it years before the iPhone was even dreamed of.


I had an iPaq, too, and I found the iPhone to be revolutionary. It's not just about features, but about making a good user experience.

Cell phone service: The negotiations that Apple had with the carriers caused the modern low-cost data plans. Before that, carriers were happy to nickel and dime you for every megabyte, and some carriers even customized smartphones so they wouldn't use WiFi, to force you into being nickeled. But the feature that impressed me the most was Visual Voicemail. "Press 7 to delete this message, or press 9 to save it."

WinCE Internet and email: Pocket Internet Explorer was years behind desktop Internet Explorer in performance and web standards. I didn't use it because it worked with few web sites. Same with Blazer and Opera Mini. Safari on iOS is comparable to desktop Safari.

The "slate" is an especially unimpressive accomplishment. Apple had slates before: the Newton MessagePad. Palm had slates. Just "slate" was an obvious design choice. The "slate" with only a single button under the screen, with a UI designed for touch instead of using a stylus to hit the Start button in the corner for everything, that was revolutionary.

There are still many features that Apple hasn't deigned to put into the iPhone. FM radio receivers and transmitters, TV receivers, giant screens, projectors, heartbeat monitors. Apple was late to do 3G and 4G, and refuses to do Flash and Java and 3GPP video calls. It's not about the spec sheet. It's about making a product that works well.


Except the point is most often brought up with regards to patent law and features.

And that's the issue: Apple may have refined the feature set (and mostly benefited from being able to do capacitive touchscreens) but they didn't independently invent as some people would have it, apparently every single feature of the modern smartphone (and thus should apparently be given a monopoly forever on it via injunctions).

It's especially telling that a lot of people resort to wanting the quality of an implementation to somehow count over prior art for patent law (which is just, incredibly stupid on every level).


Apple refined the feature set, and Google ripped them off. Samsung ripped them off more blatantly.

It's not my opinion that Apple invented all those features, though that's the public opinion. It's my opinion that Apple spent a lot of effort and patent filings to refine them, and that's more relevant to the court. And patents are valid for about 20 years, not "forever."

It is not just about touchscreens. Look at the Nokia N97 and the Blackberry Storm to see the competitors' immediate reactions to the iPhone. And look at Windows Phone for a different approach to designing for touch.


I had a Nokia phone which easily beat the iPhone on 'features' when it was launched. The camera was better, it had apps, an IM client, etc. etc.

It was crap. That's why the iPhone won, and why Samsung was forced to knock it off.


A few comments are saying that the author is too harsh on Samsung, but I get the impression that he actually admires Samsung's unscrupulous, unethical though ultimately canny business practices - in a similar way that one would admire a drug dealer's ultra-efficient distribution system.

After all, the Samsung presented in this article enters into new markets via wholesale IP theft. It then uses a suite of legal instruments to stall for time in order to build internal technical capabilities and intellectual capital. Samsung could stop here, but chooses instead to actually innovate and improve on the products using the knowledge and experience base it has accrued copying the product in the first place. It's a pretty shrewd, albeit completely unethical business strategy.


It's also a song & dance we have seen before. Many Japanese companies played that game in the post-war era.


Sure, Samsung comes across as an utterly immoral and venal company in this piece. Unless you object to the specifics of any of the allegations (which seem based mostly on court papers), you can't fault the writer for being "biased". There are innumerable ways to skin the "smartphone wars" story, and Kurt Eichenwald has chosen one. Instead of some standard Apple-did-this/Google-did-this/Samsung-did-this story, he's chosen to focus it mostly on Samsung.

Another reason why Samsung's behavior might seem egregious to many American/western HNers is because their economies have historically moved past the stage where such wanton copying & corruption was acceptable. Doesn't mean American companies haven't been guilty of equally venal - at times far worse - practices. But it would help to view Korean/Chinese companies trying to "catch up" on the global stage through relevant context.

Again, I'm not justifying what Samsung does here, just saying if they hadn't done much of what the article lays out, we might not have had such a competitive and disruptive smartphone/consumer electronics sector globally.


Let us not also forget that Samsung was one of the main suppliers for iPhone and to an extent still is. The real loss is not for Apple in here, they are just worried they could not monopolize the smartphone but the real victims are the Motorolas and HTCs which did not lets say "push the boundaries", and Palm and Microsoft which had a fresh take on Mobile OS. To say that Samsung is cornerstone for today's diverse market is a bit disingenuous, there would have been other players.


Samsung seems to be a very 'American' company. Is there anything they do that a lot of big American companies don't do?

Their only crime seems to be being big enough to beat an American company at its own game. If Apple wants to compete it need to do better than competing on 'rounded corners'. Lets face it the iPhone's cachet is rooted more in media hype than any meaningful reality.


You seem to miss the article's points entirely.

It's not just in America. Samsung has been caught with the same shenanigans in China and in Taiwan. The author is right about Samsung - it is the world's most dirty, unethical, and corrupt corporation, by far.


Are you serious? What planet are you living on? When did you get the idea that big companies play nice?

So long as they can negotiate the fines that go with their misdeeds they will play dirty, assuming they get prosecuted in the first place.

Why do you think the bankrupt TBTF banks are still up and running with their bosses earning their obscene bonuses as usual?


Has anyone had a good experience licensing to and/or working with Samsung? Any good experiences that turned bad?


Apple Computer Corporation has made hundreds of billions with Samsung as their main supplier of screens and CPUs for their most profitable product -- the iPhone. So there's at least one company that has had a great experience working with Samsung.


I've heard my chip designer friend mention in passing that the "Chinese wall" between the Samsung fab group and the Samsung design groups is occasionally porous.


I've heard multiple bad experiences. No good ones.


Even at the consumer level: go purchase a new Samsung TV and read their data-mining TOS.


A very biased article - the only facts emphasized are the ones that support the Samsung is an IP thief narrative.


Considering what was available before the iPhone debut, what was known in the pipeline, and the comments made by some competitors about starting over, its not hard to side with Apple. Given it took how long after the iPhone came out for Samsung to copy it? Yeah, I said copy. Smart phones before it were anything but.


The iPhone wasn't the first capacitative touch smartphone. LG announced and got to market before them. I don't remember if anyone else was earlier or not.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LG_Prada


It wasn't the first, but no one remembers them because they didn't make a difference in the market.

Quality of implementation is everything. Philo Farnsworth didn't invent the first TV, mechanical TV systems existed before. But his was much more practical, a better implementation. Same with Edison's lightbulb.

I wouldn't say the iPhone was special for being the first touchscreen phone (which as you pointed out, it's not). I'd say it was the first modern smartphone.


They sold 1m of the phones, but they concentrated on the Asian rather than the US market. Apple had a more powerful brand to leverage than LG did, not to mention experience as a platform provider.


I don't think any amount of marketing would have made that phone sell or set off a revolution the way the iPhone did. I don't think Apple selling that phone would have set off a revolution the way the iPhone did.

I'm not saying it's a bad phone, but some anti-Applers like to minimize the iPhone as "just the first touchphone"; there was more to it than that.


> Quality of implementation is everything

And you can't patent "quality of implementation."


Why then didn't Samsung copy the LG phone?


Actually, for people who know their technology history, it is very easy to not side with Apple. Apple's whole pile of smartphone and tablet lawsuits is a transparent attempt to get a do-over on Apple v Microsoft. "Look and feel" wasn't protected back then and shouldn't be protected now. Unfortunately, patent law has taken a deeply problematic turn since then, so Apple has had better luck in the courtroom this time.


So you support Samsung because you sided with Microsoft in some past battle, and you hold a grudge.

At least you're honest.


Which reading would you recommend?


I've never found a remotely balanced article about the history of smartphones. The best reading is Wikipedia.


It's only 'bias' if you don't want to see it as true.


No. It's both biased and true.

The author goes deeply into related price fixing by Samsung, but never mentions the price and wage fixing that Apple has done. The author is clearly espousing a specific and deceptive narrative.

Both companies engage in anti-competitive practices. However, you can't compare the two if you don't engage in an honest exploration of their business practices.

Really? I don't understand the debate. The fact that these companies have been 'borrowing' from each other has been great for us consumers. If nobody was competing with Apple, the iphone would be worse than it is today.

The size and cost of the legal battle between these two companies should really inform us about the changes we need to make to technology patent laws.


"It nobody was competing with Apple, the iPhone would be worse than it is today"

This is an irrelevant straw-man. Knocks offs aren't the only way to compete. Arguably if Samsung truly created something original, there would be far more pressure on Apple to improve. Indeed Samsung's real effect in piggybacking on Apple's work has been to stifle the other Android franchisees such as Motorola and HTC whose products were in many ways better.


Of course if Samsung hadn't stifled Motorola and HTC, Apple was already well along with lawsuits on those fronts (including an import ban that probably helped start HTC's downward spiral).


Motorola had no trouble with Apple patents.



I see you leave out the places where Motorola prevailed against Apple.


No it's biased because the article spends half its time talking about scandals in Samsung's history and praising Jobs/Apple as unbelievable visionaries brutally screwed by corporate Korea.


How is it bias if all the allegations are true?

Samsung does this shit in China, and in Taiwan. If the author was biased, it's that he completely left out all the Samsung shenanigans in China's and Taiwan's smart phone market. The author only mentioned U.S. and Europe. But Samsung, the sick assholes they are, do the same things in Asia as well.


It's very easy to have bias even if the facts are correct. For example there's a chemical that is used in the production of most explosives, and anyone who has ever ingested it will assuredly die. I'm talking about water, but I made it sound like I was referring to a dangerous toxin.

The whole point of unbiased media is to present facts on both sides--like another comment said, we need to understand the unscrupulous practices of both Apple and Samsung.


No media behaves anything like what you are calling for. Yes, this would be ideal, but it is so meaningless to call for it in the context of a single article that it is effectively a straw man.

What we currently live with is media either painting a realistic picture, or not. In this case it is realistic.


The scandals characterize the behavior of the company. You can't pretend they didn't happen.


I didn't say they didn't happen. I said the article is biased because it focuses on one side alone.


The problem in this case is caused solely by Samsung. Also, the author pointed out cases after cases of Samsung unethical practices besides Apple. The author sole 'bias', in this case, is that he left out all Samsung's shenanigans in Asia. It's not just in U.S. and Europe where Samsung has been caught and fined, again and again, but in China's and Taiwan's smartphone market as well. In those cases, Samsung's 'tactics', and actually being forced to pay a fine, makes the Apple case look tame. You can not argue that it is bias when an author presents established court decisions after decisions. In this case, Apple is clearly the victim. Samsung has a rich history of being assholes, and it's good to see U.S. media finally pointing out the company for what the sick, unethical, greedy, and corrupt company it is, the the assholes who own and operate the entity.


The scandals don't belong to Apple. Of course they are only on 'one side'. Just because it doesn't make both companies look as bad doesn't make it biased.


Well, this just made me give up on HN.


Why? Are you a Samsung employee? They've been caught and fined lying about other companies in Asia. Samsung is by far the sickest, more unethical, corrupt, and disgusting greedy assholes on the planet.


Apple made such publicly false claims they were called back before the court twice to correct them. They took the unprecedented step of forcing Apple to run a court ordered statement on their homepage.

They also determined that as part of this trial Apple had extremely dubiously tried to play two European courts against each other to obtain an illegitimate injunction.


Yes, thanks for saying this, it really brings balance...

Oh wait... It doesn't change the way Samsung comes out of this.


> Yes, thanks for saying this, it really brings balance...

> Oh wait... It doesn't change the way Samsung comes out of this.

You clearly have a psychological issue with understand what 'balance' is. When you point out facts that show a company to behave poorly but then ignore the facts showing their competitor to behave poorly, that is not balance. I did not once suggest Samsung didn't do these things, but to gloss over Apple's egregious and flagrant dismissals of EU wide court authority is to bias an article.

I'm sorry you are incapable of seeing this.


The point is that Apple's poor behavior barely registers on the scale by comparison to Samsung's, so the truth is not balanced. That is why the article doesn't bother to mention these things.

You would like to make the claim that they are both as bad as each other because that way Samsung doesn't look as bad as it really is. That's why you are calling for this 'balance'.


Are you Posting under the Two different accounts? A sibling post by a user, jackshaocheng has s similarstyleof writing with similar use of asshole


I read on the web that Steve Jobs wanted to go for full fledged war on Android ...etc, no matter of costs involved. But that was back when he was alive and both Android and ios are in fancy. It was an emotional burst. Steve Jobs was known for changing mind, if different options arise on horizon. So if he is alive, he may take different turn in this episode, rather than just fighting and fighting in the courts.

But since it is well publicized that Steve wanted to battle Android at any cost, Apple's current leadership may not have space to back down because if they back down, share holders, press, loyal fans may feel as going against Steve's last wishes...etc.

As article shows, Tim cook tried to caution multiple times, even when Steve was alive. In that sense, it is "reluctant war" on behalf of Tim cook and my guess is, he wants to settle the distraction/media glare and move on.

I read somewhere that Steve wanted Tim cook to make decisions not as what Steve would do ...etc but based on current reality. Ordered penalty is just a drop in Apple's revenue. But the constant media focus, important supplier relationship with Samsung, Tim Cook's own reluctance (despite public utterances), antipathy to patent fights in tech world means there will be gradual burial of this issue over time and focus on battle through new products/improvements.

I guess Steve also would do the same. He settled with Microsoft in the beginning to avoid distraction and focus on new products. There will be short term backlash but if they are right on roadmap, people see that as masterstroke ...etc.

Note: This is my view/guess as an outsider based on what I read about Steve Jobs, Apple ...etc.


It's a repeated meme that Apple should "stop litigating and get back to innovating" as if the organization is incapable of doing both. I disagree that Apple should back down. Tim Cook's advice was given at a time when Apple was more dependent on Samsung as a supplier, and being in charge of operations that was his concern. Since then Apple has diversified away from Samsung (and continues to do so). It is most definitely not in Apple's best interest to let Samsung continue as they have throughout their history, in terms of IP infringement, without a cost. The alternative is to become a victim like the many other companies mentioned in the article.


At the end of the day, these decisions have to be taken at CEO level. Apple may be big but it has only one CEO. This may not be the only issue Tim Cook is paying attention. There will be several such issues in any big company. Reducing some or optimization will always be an option at CEO level.

Vendor relations are always based on cost, resources and so I guess, they will be in a flux always. So diversification away forever is not pragmatic choice, given the reliability of Samsung so far.

I never mentioned not to fight but I mentioned not through courts. Smart guys at Apple can think several options and I am novice there.


"Tim Cook, cautioned against being too aggressive. Samsung was one of Apple’s biggest suppliers of processors, display screens, and other items. Alienating it might put Apple in the position of losing parts it needed for its products." The thing that always boggled me was the dysfunctional relationship - Apple being dependent on Samsung as a supplier while also having to sue them. Of course, Apple had already been through this with Microsoft... and Google. Coopetition much?


Stupid war between two stupid 99%-marketing-based junk-producing companies. I really hope both lose the "war".


side note: the readability on vanity fair's blog is surprisingly awesome! also didn't see any ads at all.


The lawyers feel like the only ones winning out of patent disputes.


This is a terrible article that glosses over Apple's history of exactly the same sorts of actions including even taking the name of their product without proper authority.

The Reality Distortion Field of 'ooh shiny' strikes again.


There's a major difference between when a revolutionary new product has the same name as a defunct product line (Linksys iPhone, which got revived specifically to cash in on Apple iPhone) or a local failing product line (Proview Shenzhen's iPad), and when Samsung produces rip-off products that have confusing similarities to Apple's successful product lines.

Apple certainly is a terrible company, and I think many of their patents should not be patentable, but this is one area where I think Samsung is in the wrong.

The most annoying part for me is that Samsung is winning with inferior quality. The Samsung devices that I've seen have annoying bugs and low build quality, and Samsung keeps stuffing Touchwiz onto their Android devices, and their own UX development always seems gimmicky. But, hey, it worked for Microsoft.


> Apple certainly is a terrible company, and I think many of their patents should not be patentable, but this is one area where I think Samsung is in the wrong.

For doing what? Producing a Smartphone? Using Apple's logic any majority touchscreen device with icons is an infringement upon their patents/trade dress.


For wholesale copying as many aspects of their phone as they did. Patent lawsuits (at least in this industry) usually hinge upon whether some small number of silly patents are infringed upon, when really those patented items weren't particularly more innovative than any other other myriad design decisions involved in the product. So our system tends to vastly overvalue those silly patented things and at the same time undervalue the totality of innovation in a product.


Why didn't Samsung select other designs from the menu of choices? The myriad design decisions Samsung made produced an iPhone. That's copying.


Because the silly patents in question are so broad (at least on paper, before trial) that they are practically impossible to not trip over.

Consider the "data detectors" (one of the patents Samsung lost on, IIRC). It dates from the mid 90s and had nothing to do with smartphones until some lawyer at Apple realized that it could be twisted to cover common features like recognizing phone numbers in text messages so you can click and call them. This one happens to be particularly egregious because it is the smartphone equivalent recognizing email addresses and URLs email messages, which goes all the way back to Netscape Navigator 2! (which is at least a contemporary of the patent, if it didn't preced it)

Unfortunately, we all know how prior art and obviousness arguments usually go...


Can't expect Apple to take it sitting down, regardless of the prevailing prejudice.


imagine all that money they spent on lawsuits to be spent on research and charity?


Imagine all the time wasted here that could be spent on research, charity, and product development.


> http://m.us.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303997604579242...

Apple spent like $60 million on the Samsung litigation. Its a drop in the bucket compared to how much they spend on R&D (50-60 times as much).


Yeah, but the Samsung litigation is not the only patent affairs that Apple has.

http://www.androidauthority.com/google-apple-spend-patents-1...


I've seen that article and its bunk. It takes too completely different things and adds them together to say "Apple and Google spend $20 billion on patent litigation." For example they count the Motorola acquisition as $12 billion (IIRC) towards that amount.


Does Apple really spend $3B+ on R&D? That's interesting.


The worthless iPhone argument


Yeah, so worthless that it created an entire industry.


The pattern this article shines a light on is that American companies continue to innovate - while other countries can only follow. Imagine if no one copied each other and spent all that time and treasure on innovation.


Yeah, we'd all be better reinventing the wheel rather than improving on what already exists.




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