Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Great Game Behind Apple/Samsung Verdict: Racism and Eliticism

Spot at least six differences between panels. If you can't, congratulations: you are a US judge!

This is not one of my usual articles. If you are expecting an objective analysis of the Apple/Samsung verdict, please look elsewhere. Objectivity in this case is not required or even welcome. This is a highly personal, opinionated account of my thoughts on the Apple copyright suit, its process and its implications in the long run.

As you know, Apple filed a lawsuit against Samsung, alleging that the latter stole several "patented" design ideas of its products, specifically phones and tablets. They contended that the similarities were enough to cause confusion among consumers, who might pick up a Samsung device thinking it was an Apple device. These patents covered everything from overall design of a device, to the software features, to the design of icons, etc. You can get the details from any tech blog. The summary of the situation is that none of the claimed 'patents' were actually invented by Apple. However they were awarded to them.

The suit was litigated. From the outset Judge Lucy Koh let it be known loud and clear through her remarks that she was not going to be objective or logical. The patents covered 26 devices by Samsung. At the end of arguments, a lengthy form was given to jurors, who were supposed to decide on patent violation by each of the 26 devices individually. It was estimated that it would take weeks for them to fill it out and arrive at a decision.

Surprise, surprise: the jurors were back after two days, holding Samsung guilty of all charges and slapping a penalty of $1.05 billion on them. Naturally, Samsung plans to go into appeal. However, I don't believe for a second that any US court will EVER side with a Korean company against one of their own.

Now, I am the first one to admit that I have always mocked Samsung's TouchWiz interface for its Android devices as 'iOS for kids'. Their icons are similar; but, you know what: Android is completely different to iOS. Therefore the resemblance is entirely superficial, and any consumer can easily distinguish between Samsung and Apple products simply by seeing the logos. It's not the same situation as "NOKLA" replica phones, which are so close to the real thing that it is genuinely possible for anyone to be fooled.

Therefore, to claim that Apple deserves $1 billion from Samsung thanks to lost sales is not only ridiculous, it is shamefully insulting to human intelligence. It is like Rolls Royce claiming patent infringement by BMW for copying its 'design' of a car with four wheels, four doors, two headlights and a steering. Further, according to the verdict, a Rolls Royce customer is capable of walking into a BMW dealership thinking it was a RR dealership, buying the car and going home. Suppose the chap's wife says, "I thought you went to buy a Rolls Royce". The said chap: "D'oh! I didn't see the logos! What a fool I am!"

Are we all that stupid? In the putrid, fetid minds of the Apple-bankrolled judge and jury, we are. I, however, believe that this fiasco is just a tree in a large forest, and we should be able to see the forest. Here it comes.

To me, this decision reinforces a worldwide racist/elitist agenda against third world and non-white races. Yes, you read that right. You see, a win for Apple means that Apple is allowed to slowly strangle other mobile manufacturers out of existence. It also means that competitors have to remove useful features from future devices just because Apple thinks it owns them. Granted, the decision covers the US market only and elsewhere similar suits have been thrown out. But US is a big market and no manufacturer can hope to remain successful in the long run without having a meaningful presence there.

Compare Apple and Samsung. Apple commands an uncompromised mindshare amongst the world's elite: bankers, executives, billionaires, and rich offspring of them. The pricing of Apple products ensures that they sell by the millions, yet do not reach the masses. Apples' application ecosystem is also closed and expensive. You have to be seriously rich if you mean to take full benefit of Apple products. It is like having to pay extra for 'diet' version of your favorite ice cream: you are paying more to get less. This strategy is successful because there is a whole section of general public which cannot be persuaded to invest a little time and effort into their technology. They want things as simple as they want, even if they are missing features. In return, they want a visibly expensive hardware so that they can flaunt it and announce their status. What the device can or cannot do is of absolutely no concern to them.

All credit to Steve Jobs for identifying this segment of the market and nailing the job of tailoring his products to them. An iPhone is simplicity itself: no advanced features, just a sea of icons. Looks wise it is bland and elegant. It has a tiny 3.5 inch screen with super sharp picture. It can make calls. It is updated once a year at a specific time and its operating system also receives an update once a year.

By contrast, there are several dozen Samsung Android phones. Even the most basic one of them can largely match the feature set of an iPhone at 20% the price. But with Android, people have to customize. They have to invest time and effort to mold the device in their own persona. You can never be pleased with your current Android phone because you know that a better one is coming out next week. Android customers talk about internal memory, RAM, processor speed, screen density, while comparing the specs of their phones. Android might be almost as easy to master as iOS, but its perception differs.

However, thanks to Android, a huge portion of the world's lower middle class can now be connected and become part of the information revolution. With phones for every pocket, anyone from a cornershop owner to a student to a chief executive can afford and enjoy the connectivity and advanced feature set. Technologies like GPS, WiFi, NFC, and video calling can now be enjoyed by people in Asia and Africa for whom iPhone's price is more than their entire years' salary.

The chief beneficiaries of Android are all Far Eastern companies: Sony, Samsung, HTC, LG and a host of Chinese manufacturers. The defining trait of these companies has always been to profit from volumes rather than margins. Therefore they focus on reaching a widest possible audience, as opposed to Apple whose main source of profit is 'Apple Tax', i.e. exorbitant overpricing of its products.

Both approaches have their merits. Apple gets to keep its efforts cleaner and more focused, and considerably more polished overall (though Android 4.0 and 4.1 have beaten Apple in that respect). It means Apple doesn't have to worry about reaching every segment of society yet it can remain the most profitable company on the planet.

The elite class so comprehensively locked, the only alternative left for competitors is to reach for other demographics and income groups. In the process, humanity benefits.

Now coming back to the verdict, one can clearly see that while Apple shows no plans or intentions to extend its product range beyond the very expensive, it nevertheless seeks to root out its competitors. Specifically, the Samsung Galaxy Y is no threat to iPhone, yet it might be wiped out from the face of the planet as a result of Apple's lawsuit. Keep in mind that the US patents mechanism and judiciary is on Apple's side. With world's deepest pockets it is not fanciful to assume that in the long run Apple is in a strong position to 'influence' judiciary worldwide, especially now that there is a 'precedent' in the form of the US verdict.

So once again: Apple retains its stronghold on the elite, while eliminating competitors which cover every segment from lower middle class to the top tier.

What can it mean? To me, it is nothing less than an attempt of placing embargo upon the right to information by the less privileged populace of the world. There is no other explanation for the absurdity of these proceedings. If Apple has its way with the patents, ultimately it will own all the devices that can provide access to internet. The devices that will be affordable by under previleged masses will be crippled, underpowered, and might even block access to certain portions of the internet. So, while information is freely accessible today, in a near future it will once again become a luxury to be enjoyed by the elite.

Yes, it is far fetched. But tell me: why else would Apple be allowed to dictate what its competitors can and cannot sell? Go back to the beginning of this article: what if Rolls Royce decided that it will litigate the Toyotas, Hondas, and Suzukis of this world out of existence due to their 'abuse of patents'? Will Rolls Royce ever cover the market segments thus vacated? Never. So it will only leave a vast population not being able to afford transport whereas previously it could.

This process of concentrating the world's resources in the hands of the precious few is nothing new. It has already occurred in the realms of finances, natural resources and food. I won't be surprised if the same agenda is carried out for information because after all, it is the most precious commodity of all.

I will leave you with an interview of the foreman of the jury, one Mr Hogan. See and judge for yourselves.


  1. Thanks man (or woman) :-). Please spread the word if you like my blog

  2. Enjoyed your remarks. The only thing I would change in your analogy, I would make the "lesser" company someone like Hyundai. In recent years Hyundai has gained tremendous respect and market share, but they also have given their vehicles the "look and feel" or as the new buzz word describes it, the "trade dress" of other more established companies. How dare they! Perhaps someone should sue them?

  3. LOL. I knew someone would call me out to it! Initially I planned to put 'Suzuki' there, but then realized one thing: analogy won't be quite right. Hyundai is still an up and coming player whereas Samsung pretty much owns electronics these days.And yes, someone CAN sue them, but that 'someone', like Apple, will already have lifted tonnes of ideas from other makers. So they can't. In tech world it is different, where blind, deaf and dumb press and public swallows everything Apple says.

  4. Of course sir. You found the 'easter egg'. I know and that's why I made the analogy because BMW supplies most of the hardware for RR and Samsung does that for Apple. Also their relative market positioning is analogous

  5. I look at the comparison more like Apple = Lotus Elise, and Samsung = Toyota Supra. The Elise, yet elegant in design has a tiny engine and you can't do a damn thing to mod does what it was designed to do, even though it is limited, does it well. It is also very overpriced, but exotic. Then you have the twin turbo supra. Mods out the ass from upgrading turbos to intake/exhaust to full suspensions and even the engine itself, all within reasonable cost. And still, the stock Supra outperforms the Elise. Then, with some evolution, the Elise has blossomed into an Exige (pretty much the same care)....while the Supra has become the LFA! :)

    1. Wow, I believe a better analogy couldn't be found. It all fits: Elise/Exige are minimalist, overpriced but also elegant, whereas early Supras were not that good to look at but LFA = Android 4.0. It is funny how, two years ago, or before Android 4.0, iOS would have appeared to be the fully decked out LFA in this comparison.