Mike Isaac

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Samsung Exec Downplays “Crisis of Design” Memo at Patent Trial

At the start of Week 2 in the Apple vs. Samsung patent infringement case, Apple introduced a damning internal email from Samsung’s head of mobile communications, J.K. Shin, to his designers, one that makes plain just how important Apple’s minimalist iPhone design was in shaping Samsung’s future design plans.

“All this time we’ve been paying all our attention to Nokia, and concentrated our efforts on things like Folder, Bar, Slide,” Shin wrote in the email, dated February of 2010, just one month before Samsung announced what would become its first extremely successful Android smartphone, the Galaxy S. “Yet when our UX is compared to the unexpected competitor Apple’s iPhone, the difference is truly that of Heaven and Earth.”

“It’s a crisis of design,” Shin wrote.

It’s important, considering Apple’s $2.5 billion case against Samsung involves whether or not Samsung infringed Apple’s patents for the iPhone and iPad with Samsung’s own Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets. Specifically, Apple is suing Samsung over the way its phones look and act, claiming Samsung “slavishly copied” Apple’s handset design.

But when Samsung strategy head Justin Denison took the stand, he downplayed the language used in the email, citing it as hyperbole typical of that used internally at Samsung.

“Samsung does an excellent job of remaining very humble, self critical and maintaining a sense of urgency within its own ranks to drive hard work and innovation,” Denison said. “We want to change so that it never rests on its laurels and becomes complacent. So you hear a lot of hyperbolic statements like ‘crisis of design’ and ‘heaven and earth.’”

Later questions to Denison from Samsung attorney John Quinn attempted to downplay the importance of being first to market with certain designs. Denison said Apple hasn’t always beaten Samsung to the punch. Samsung has introduced many technologies before Apple, he said, including voice recognition tech. But Denison said he didn’t feel “ripped off” when Apple introduced similar features.

So, for example, if the iPhone 5 were to come out tomorrow with a larger screen (a feature it is expected to sport), Denison said he’d be fine with it — even though one of Samsung’s most striking features in its recent line of smartphones is the inclusion of increasingly larger screen sizes. It’s an industry trend, he says, and isn’t something worth griping over.

There is strategy in this: If Samsung plays it cool whenever Apple makes strides that could be seen as similar to Samsung’s, then by Samsung’s logic, Apple should be cool with the same.

Alas, that’s probably wishful thinking.


Apple versus Samsung Full Coverage

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