How could they possibly design it differently?

The global lawsuit war between Samsung and Apple is getting boring but at the same time, Apple-haters and short-minded people seem to be acting as if Apple was just one big bully. While I think that some of Apple’s lawsuits are plain ridiculous and that Apple is using the wrong tools to win the mobile revolution, I do think that in some cases Apple has good reasons to be unhappy about what its competition is doing.

Let’s cut right to the chase and get to the root of what I think is the problem of haters and people who seem to have forgotten how the landscape looked like. First there was the PC world and there was this tiny company that made shiny white fruit-logo computers that almost nobody cared about. Apple was in fact ‘nothing‘.

If anybody talked about tablets, what you thought off looked like this. Right?

This was referred to as tablets, tablet pc’s, tablet computers, etc. They used to run plain old Windows with some kind of touch support. I haven’t ever used them but I’m pretty sure they weren’t all that practical… Or mobile.

Then in 2010, along came the iPad.

The buzzword Apple used to describe this device was ‘magical‘. And it somehow was. Because never before has there been a tablet that made it into so many people’s homes and companies. Especially in so little time. Apple redefined the word ‘mobile‘. Apple bet on smaller tablets with a more lightweight OS, that looks nothing like previous tablet OS’s. They decided to drop the hardware keyboard completely, together with ethernet, USB slots and everything else that was not 100% vital for the product to work. The iPad was a huge success and in a matter of 80 days they had sold 3 millions iPads.

And then all of a sudden tablets from other manufacturers looked like this.

Yea, all looking a lot like the iPad. Thin, small devices, no hardware keyboard, almost all of them sporting some kind of lightweight mobile OS, completely optimized for touch. Personally I don’t mind: Why should I? Apple made a good move; created a product that people actually like to use. Other companies are now building similar products and I have more choice than ever. Great innovation shouldn’t be in the hands of one company. Good stuff gets copied. And that’s great for the consumer.

Earlier today I saw this post by John Gruber about Samsung now selling SD card reader connectors for their tablets. As it turns out they look exactly like the Apple ones, only they’re black. I tweeted about this, wondering why Samsung might be doing this? Minutes later I got a response, saying the same thing that many others have been saying about the whole style-copying thing: How could they possibly make it look differently? 

So all of a sudden Apple is just using the most simple design style in the world that is so obvious and yet everybody else fails to use it unless Apple leads the way… I’m sorry but I don’t buy it. Sure, Apple is using a simple, sleek design on its current products that couldn’t be any more basic but their designs are quite unique when first released. And only weeks/months later, the competition comes up with products that look just like Apple’s because how else could they design it?

Again: I’m not judging Samsung (and every other company for that matter) for doing it: It’s the right way to go. If you can’t beat them, join them. But nobody can deny that (in this case) Samsung is just blatantly copying Apple. And if your excuse is “How else could they possibly design it?“, go back to the beginning of this post and ask yourself: “How could Apple possibly make a tablet that looks different than the pre-Apple established tablet spectrum?”


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Ronny is a freelance frontend developer with a wild passion for creativity and a relentless hate against flat design. Ronny spent years as a Flash developer before moving to HTML5 and rediscovering fun and happiness.

5 Comments Join the Conversation →

  1. Jonathan

    Let me start of by saying I found your post very unbelievable after reading the words “Apple-haters and short minded people”.
    With all due respect Ronny, I very much like your work but being an Apple fanatic doesn’t magically elevate your to some higher level of awareness.

    While I do very much recognise the fact that the iPad and most other Apple product have been groundbreaking achievements that only later on inspired other manufacturers to create similar products I’ll still have to hold my ground and ask, how many different ways are there to create an SD-connector without it being unpractical to use or just blatantly ugly?

    I like using an honest approach to anything in and around my life wich has led me to buy a Samsung phone.
    My reasoning behind this purchase is simple, if this were 2009, I would have no doubt gone iPhone, yet while what Apple did was great and inspiring beyond words back then, it isn’t just that anymore.
    Apple are inventors, creators, and Jobs was a confident fearless person with great ideas.
    On the other hand, other manufacturers have adopted their ideas and greatly improved upon them wich now makes buying an iPhone just not worth that hard earned cash, it’s a cool shiny phone, but it’s inferior to current competition (a glass finish doesn’t make it worth 200Eur. extra).

    note: The tablet market is another story, I’d say the iPad is still the leading device there no doubt.

    Cheers, keep up the blog!

  2. Ronny

    Hi Jonathan,

    Thanks for the kind words; I appreciate it 🙂
    Concerning your opinion about whether you prefer an iPhone or an Android device: That’s your good right. I have different opinions on that and I think that Apple’s platform fits me better. That’s personal opinion and we can’t agree on everything. However this isn’t so much about Android VS iOS; It’s about Apple VS Samsung in the courtrooms about design-copies.

    The idea of this blogpost is to point out that there’s probably always another way of making something look differently. The iPad example was the most simple one as Apple ‘redesigned the tablet’.
    I’m not a hardware designer (thank god!) so I don’t have any ideas about making that SD card slot thing look differently. Let alone better. That’s why there are product designers and engineers and I’m sure that someone, somewhere could come up with something else/better/simpler with more features, etc…

    I’m just wondering what Samsung is up to. They’re currently involved in numerous lawsuits about ‘copying Apple’s designs’ and this (assuming this SD card thing is a new product release since it only comes up now) SD card thing looks like Samsung doesn’t care and just goes on to ‘copy’ Apple. Are they just doing it because they can’t come up with something else? Or are they just trying to make Apple more angry? Or are they trying to make a point of any kind?

    Hence the “Wtf is Samsung doing?”

    (I still maintain that copying good designs/stealing good ideas like this is not a bad thing. But if somebody points it out, one shouldn’t answer with “How could they possibly design it differently?” because somebody out there might just be able to pull it off. Just like Apple did when they designed the iPad)

  3. Mark

    Nice topic.
    I think design is very relative to time. The iPad design wouldn’t work 5 years ago, because it would be too simplistic. 5 years ago, everything has lots of buttons/settings and looks more tech style. I remember the more options/settings/buttons, the better. Design is changing. Nowadays everything should look simple. When looking at the new Google (but also in the Apple) style, it does look like wireframes looks like the designs (uh or the designs loos like wireframes). I believe the Apple design doesn’t stand more than 10 years (in it’s current format), the design will change over time or someone else creates something that feels better. There aren’t a lot people who have the ability to change the overall expectation on how things SHOULD look. That is where Apple wins these days. I guess that is where real innovation comes in; create/design things that work better, in a way people expect it to work, but still have the idea it is revolutionary; Setting a new standard. Mostly those great designs principles are copied/translated/applies at other products, mostly because of a lack of better design or just because they point to an existing design as highest standard (instead of creating something better). We can not imaging how things will look in the future. I think this applies to all types of design, wherever it is design in hardware or software.

    “If you can’t beat them, join them.” I disagree. We should improve and innovate all time, otherwise just copy as good as you can.

    That said, personally I dislike touch-keyboards and hope it will be replaced with something better soon. A ‘normal’ keyboard works 10 times faster and I feel what I’m doing without looking at my hands. I guess if you’re blind (btw, I am not), an iPad is pretty useless since it is not very accessible.

  4. Ward

    @Mark: You should try the accessibility features of the iPad for the blind, they are the best available on any device.

    Every app is automaticly accessible, they can touch anywhere on the screen and a voice tells them what they are touching. You could not do this on a pc, it is easier to physically touch something instead of using a mouse.

  5. Vanhoutte

    I like the way you think; because I think you are right.
    The simplistic design of Apple’s devices ‘works’ because it’s the right time for it.


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