(Author’s note: on top of being an Apple fanboy, I should disclose that I worked for Apple from October 2008 until August 2009 in their Westchester, NY retail store).
I have a second Apple-related post coming next week, but as a gadget freak and a design junkie, I would be remiss if I didn't say something about Apple's courtroom victory over Samsung this Friday. A jury of nine has smacked Samsung with a $1.05 billion fine as punishment for violating Apple's various mobile phone patents. In a nutshell, Apple claimed that Samsung blatantly ripped off the iPhone's software and hardware designs following the release of the first iPhone in 2007. The jury agreed. Now I'm completely in the bag for Apple, but that doesn't mean the verdict was wrong. After all, it's difficult to look at this...
...and not see that Samsung totally ripped off the iPhone. This is an important victory because design is a big part of how we see and interact with the world. Permitting someone to co-opt the design language of an innovator without due deference sends the wrong message about what kind of society we are. Patent infringement is a kind of theft, and our legal system was constructed as a way of protecting the rights of those who innovate. One of the consequences of the verdict is that gadget designers will no longer be able to draw from the Apple well - within the year, we're likely to see smartphones and tablets take on radically different design elements, both in hardware and in software. This is a good thing both for business and for the design world and I think that Steve Jobs would have been a fervent supporter of this outcome.
I'm currently reading his biography by Walter Isaacson and it's fascinating to see how Jobs approached each and every product as if it were art. To him, a product shouldn't be defined solely by its function; it must be aesthetically pleasing as well. Jobs once said to Fortune Magazine, “in most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” When Jobs led the Macintosh development team back in 1982, he made his engineers redesign the Mac's circuit boards because they weren't pretty enough. Even though the circuit board wouldn't be seen by the average user, to Jobs the entire computer had to be perfect - inside and out. Otherwise, it failed as art.
Jobs was so protective of his design aesthetic that in 1985, when Steve Wozniak (Jobs' best friend and business partner) left Apple to design a universal remote, Jobs refused to let Wozniak hire the same company that designed the Macintosh. He didn't want any other product to look or feel anything like the Mac.
Of course, Jobs famously appropriated Picasso's mantra "good artists copy, great artists steal," so maybe there's a little irony in Apple's triumph over Samsung.