Apple is known for its iconic design, driven by British ex-pat Jonathan Ive. But it’s hard to imagine what I’ve would make of the design suggestions that Apple came up with as part of its suit against Samsung, whom it claimed had “slavishly copied” the design of the iPhone, iPod and iPad.
After Apple brought the suit in April, Samsung defended itself by saying that, as PCWorld puts it, “there are only so many ways you could design devices like the Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab.” Apple’s return salvo was a list of design alternatives that Samsung could have run with, listed in this public legal brief (PDF, pages 8 and 9).
For smartphones, Apple suggested:
• Front surfaces that are not black or clear
• Front surfaces that are not rectangular, not flat, and without rounded corners
• Display screens that are more square than rectangular or not rectangular at all
• Display screens that are not centered on the front surface of the phone and that have substantial lateral borders
• Speaker openings that are not horizontal slots with rounded ends and that are not centered above the display screen
• Front surfaces that contain substantial adornment
• Phones without bezels at all or very different-looking bezels that are not thin, uniform, and with an inwardly sloping profile
And for Samsung’s tablets:
• Overall shapes that are not rectangular with four flat sides or that do not have four rounded corners.
• Front surfaces that are not completely flat or clear and that have substantial adornment
• Thick frames rather than a thin rim around the front surface
• Profiles that are not thin
• A cluttered appearance
I hate to think what such a device would look like, other than phenomenally ugly. But one thing that is absolutely sure, Apple would never design a device that followed these suggestions because they know that these would be bad design choices.
There’s a reason that most smartphones, tablets, laptops, TVs and monitors look the same: form follows function. And the smaller a device gets, the less room there is for any design decision which doesn’t help the user. A rectangular phone fits in the hand in the way that a triangular or pentagonal phone would not. Rounded corners keep us from jabbing ourselves or ripping holes in our pockets. Clean and simple designs allow us to focus on the task at hand without distraction.
Of course, Apple didn’t seriously think any reasonable person would have taken their suggestions, they were just scrambling to illustrate that Samsung was copying them. The last thing they’d want to admit is that smartphones and tablets have Platonic ideals towards which all designs trend.
Although the Californian court hearing the case denied Apple’s request for a ban on Samsung’s products, Apple could still win the lawsuit. But if it does, it can’t be on the strength of these lame assertions that Samsung could have designed a non-rectangular phone.