Thou Shalt Have No Other Tablets Before Me

Steve Jobs while introducing the iPad in San F...
Steve "Moses" Jobs

Update: The legal situation has been clarifiied, though it doesn’t affect most of the points at issue here.

This is what Apple effectively said to all of Europe this week, raising fears the the world’s biggest technology company has totally lost it.

Apple claims that a rival product, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1, infringes its “design rights”, and that therefore we shouldn’t even have the choice of buying one. A German judge has agreed that there is a case to be made. Apple sought the injunction in Germany, analysts suggest, because that country has a lot of its own design-based industries so the courts are more likely to sympathise with the plaintiff, and trade rules are such that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 cannot now be sold anywhere in the EU until the issue is resolved – with the exception of the Netherlands, where such a case is already under way.

So does Apple have a case? Well the Galaxy Tab is superficially similar to the iPad. But that’s because they are both tablet computers with touch interfaces. The iPad is certainly a great example of such a device, but Apple didn’t invent it. They are both devices that run operating systems originally designed for phones, but “make a phone bigger and take out the phonecall part” is hardly patentable design. There is nothing illegal about trying to compete. In fact our entire economic and social model depends on the idea.

And under the skin of course they are fundamentally different beasts. There are some components that are absolutely identical, yes – but often because those components were designed by Samsung. They cannot run the same software, so the Galaxy Tab is in no way passing itself off as an iPad. Yet Apple’s case seems to be based mostly on the fact that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 looks a good bit like the iPad 2. It doesn’t even apply to the original 7″ Galaxy Tab.

The real reason why the are out to stop you getting your hands on a Galaxy Tab 10.1? Because it’s too good. Because by a lot of measures, it’s a better product than the iPad 2. it’s significantly lighter for one, which makes a huge difference in a tablet device, plus it has a larger yet sharper screen. What make this abundantly clear is that Apple are trying to do the same to Motorola‘s Xoom, also tipped as a serious rival.

Though these are good products, I still prefer the iPad as an experience. Apple’s total control over hardware and software does lead to a refinement that Android devices never will quite attain. The main reason I would still choose to buy an Android tablet is Apple’s restrictive practices. Now it seems, Apple are restricting the market so that I have no choice but to accept their restricted products. If they ruled the world, the person who built a better mousetrap would find no one beating a path to their door except the police.

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7 thoughts on “Thou Shalt Have No Other Tablets Before Me

  1. They are both devices that run operating systems originally designed for phones, but “make a phone bigger and take out the phonecall part” is hardly patentable design. There is nothing illegal about trying to compete. In fact our entire economic and social model depends on the idea.

    Now admittedly, I’m a bit of an Apple fanboy, although I don’t really care for the iPad. I’ve seen this argument crop up several times. My counter-argument is that there must be more to this case. Judges in these kinds of cases are well aware what the economic issues at stake are. If they make a preliminary ruling like this, it’s because they’ve seen a very strong case presented to them. Not because they have just glanced at the two devices in question.

    What I’ve understood about it is that there’s also pretty damning evidence in the shape of internal Samsung correspondence.

    About trade dress: The problem isn’t just with the device itself. Tablets will look similar. It’s of the device itself, combined with packaging, combined with icon looks, etc.

    The problem presented here is not that of copying. It’s about blatant copying. (the iPhone vs. Galaxy S case)

    The real reason why the are out to stop you getting your hands on a Galaxy Tab 10.1? Because it’s too good. Because by a lot of measures, it’s a better product than the iPad 2. it’s significantly lighter for one, which makes a huge difference in a tablet device, plus it has a larger yet sharper screen. What make this abundantly clear is that Apple are trying to do the same to Motorola‘s Xoom, also tipped as a serious rival.

    This is just nonsense. Apple is pretty litigation-happy, but it has never had to resort to litigation to compete. It’s just in their nature, ever since the drama of look-and-feel, to be as quick as possible on the gun with lawsuits. It makes an interesting narrative, but if you look at sales rates before the injunction, Apple absolutely isn’t doing this because they felt outclassed by the device. Heck, simply holding an iPad in your hands and the Galaxy Tab next to it. You personally may dislike the iPad and prefer the Tab for various reasons, but as an objective claim, it’s rubbish. The “real” reason is because Apple likes to sue people if they can.

    They lose them as often as they win; this particular case, it’s pretty strong on its merits.

    As for your “Apple is killing the marketplace”, as companies like Palm/HP and RIM are showing: there’s plenty of competition that’s doing fine without toe-ing the copying line.

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  2. “This is just nonsense. Apple is pretty litigation-happy, but it has never had to resort to litigation to compete.”

    Apple has sued to compete from the beginning. With no chance of being able to compete to the level of Microsoft with the launch of Windows vs. the original MacOS, Apple chose to try and sue Windows out of existence for using a GUI, which Apple stole from the same place Microsoft did (Xerox) and thus had no justification in suing besides “But we stole it first!” Stealing other people’s ideas and claiming them as originally the thieves is a basic part of Apple’s culture, as evidenced by the fact that Steve Jobs puts his name on every single patent filed by Apple as one of the designers/originators of the idea.

    “The problem presented here is not that of copying. It’s about blatant copying. (the iPhone vs. Galaxy S case)”

    Firstly, different cases, different countries, different laws, different legal procedures, apples/oranges etc.

    Secondly, looking through the linked article about trade dress and such we come across this list of “Look and feel trade-dress” features that make something immediately recognizable as an Apple product:
    – a rectangular product shape with all four corners uniformly rounded;
    – the front surface of the product dominated by a screen surface with black borders;
    – as to the iPhone and iPod touch products, substantial black borders above and below the screen having roughly equal width and narrower black borders on either side of the screen having roughly equal width;
    – as to the iPad product, substantial black borders on all sides being roughly equal in width;
    – a metallic surround framing the perimeter of the top surface;
    – a display of a grid of colorful square icons with uniformly rounded corners; and
    – a bottom row of square icons (the “Springboard”) set off from the other icons and that do not change as the other pages of the user interface are viewed.

    So…Basically Apple owns the look and feel of all modern portable electronic devices that happen to be black? Didn’t Palm have this kind of design back in the mid-90’s? You know how I can tell if a product is made by Apple? I have to look at the screen and see the user interface, because most people have cell-phone cases that completely hide the design! And if I can distinguish based on a quick look at the UI, it’s obviously not blatantly ripped off.

    One of the core elements of US Patent/Copyright Law (I know, not trade-dress, trademark, or EU/German law) is how unique the features protected actually turn out to be, for if it’s impossible to make a cell phone without certain design elements, then it’s not protected. (You can’t make a banana split without using bananas so you can’t copyright the idea of using bananas in a banana split).

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    1. Apple has sued to compete from the beginning. With no chance of being able to compete to the level of Microsoft with the launch of Windows vs. the original MacOS, Apple chose to try and sue Windows out of existence for using a GUI, which Apple stole from the same place Microsoft did (Xerox) and thus had no justification in suing besides “But we stole it first!”

      First of all: Early ’90s-Apple OS competed quite well with Windows. Apple didn’t fail technologically at all. A lot of people would say that Apple’s OS’s were far more advanced. Their problems ended up (like early ’00s Palm) to be almost entirely in marketing, in which Microsoft was masterful (up to the point of abusing its market power).

      Also, you repeat the most common “heard-it-from-someone”-else mistake about the whole GUI thing. It just gets repeated so often. Yes, Apple got the idea from the GUI from Xerox. Steve Jobs got a license for it.

      This, by the way was exactly the reason why suing Microsoft failed. he key elements the case hinged on had been licensed by Microsoft from Apple for their Windows 1.0 product… And with that judgement secure (up to then the whole case had been about mere design elements), Microsoft felt confident enough to release Windows 95, which, to say it politely, _very_ liberally inspired itself from Apple OS, looks-wise.

      Moral of the story. Copy all you want: but get a license first.

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    2. “Apple chose to try and sue Windows out of existence for using a GUI, which Apple stole from the same place Microsoft did (Xerox) and thus had no justification in suing besides ‘But we stole it first!'”

      To expand on what azjin said, Apple most certainly did not steal the GUI from Xerox. Jobs paid Xerox to see a demonstration of a Smalltalk IDE they were using at Xerox — this is more than a year before Xerox came up with the Star system — to get ideas for Apple’s next generation of computers. Xerox knew this at the time and happily accepted Apple stock as payment.

      The GUI for this Smalltalk IDE — and for the Xerox Star software later running on the Rank Xerox 8110 — was extremely primitive. For example, if you moved a window and revealed a window behind it, the back window didn’t redraw, it was just blank where the front window was; you had to click on the back window area to get it to redraw. This, mind you, on the actual released and sold to businesses version of the Xerox Star software.

      What’s more, a whole host of the things that came with the Lisa and Mac that we consider to be a standard part of a GUI were invented by Apple, fleshing out the base concept that Xerox’s Smalltalk IDE included. Here are just a few: drag and drop file manipulation; the trash can concept (with Microsoft’s ripoff so cleverly changing the name to “recycle bin”); direct manipulation of file, folder, and disk names; multiple views of the file system; desk accessories; control panels; PULL DOWN MENUS; and, oh yeah, the clipboard.

      The whole “Apple stole it from Xerox” thing is a complete fabrication. The idea that Microsoft got their Windows ideas from Xerox and not Apple is also complete BS, since Windows obviously came with every one of those Apple GUI innovations I listed.

      Apple’s no saint, yet the idea that Apple didn’t innovate the hell out of the personal computer interface is crap.

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