Wednesday, April 18, 2018

On Normalizing Rip-Offs

John Gruber:

In this case Savov was writing about Huawei’s copycat wireless earbuds. But the most telling example — which Savov himself has documented better than anyone else — is the iPhone X notch. The notch is unquestionably the worst thing about the iPhone X design — it is a worthwhile compromise, but a severe and glaring one. But it lends the iPhone X a distinctive look and can be easily copied, and so of course these companies are shamelessly copying it.


I don’t think outrage is the right term for how the media should react to such rip-offs. I suggest a mix of contempt and mockery. But they certainly shouldn’t be pooh-poohed with an “Eh, everyone does it” attitude.

John Gruber:

That’s why I like the phrase “design plagiarism”. Maybe you think Amadeo’s examples do constitute “copying”. But they’re not plagiarism.

Previously: iPhone X Design and the Notch.

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I feel like "plagiarism" might not be the best term to use for this kind of thing. Classically, plagiarism is when, say, the author of a book includes words (or ideas) from another source and presents those words as though they are their own, original work. The reason this kind of plagiarism is bad is the dishonesty, the claiming of credit for something someone else did. All a book *is* is its words and ideas, so if you've taken them from somewhere else without citing them, well, then what have you even really done?

I'm not seeing a direct correlation to phones or apps, which are less pure expressions of ideas than they are tools that people want to use to accomplish some goal. I'm not seeing the key element of dishonesty. If one phone maker solves a problem in the same way or provides similar features to another phone, is that really the same thing as claiming credit for someone else's idea? And without the dishonesty, "plagiarism" becomes a code word meaning "copying I don't like." Which is fine, it's fine not to like certain instances of copying. But if we acknowledge copying happens all the time then I think we need a higher standard than that to call something "plagiarism." I could be wrong, though, maybe there's a different standard everyone uses for apps and phones and I'm not aware of it.

Unrelatedly, it also puts me off from the article a little when he points the finger solely at "device makers from China and Korea." Like, really, it's just them, is it? When Apple adds features from Android to iOS it's "following," but when Chinese and Korean companies do the reverse it's a "rip-off" or "plagiarism." This feels sketchy to me.

@Moonlight It’s possible that “plagiarism” isn’t the right word, but I’m not sure we have a more appropriate one. I think Huawei example with Portrait mode clearly goes beyond providing a similar feature. From the examples I’ve seen, there really is a difference in kind between the way Apple copies and the way other companies do. Apple tends to add functionality that appeared in other products first, and it’s not necessarily clear whether they copied or just implemented a similar feature later, whereas companies copying Apple tend to more directly copy the visual or hardware design.

Um....Apple wasn't the first phone with a notch....Additionally, I think the Essential notch looks far better than the iPhone's anyway, it's barely noticeable.

Very similar story, this latest "Apple is the sole creative force" claptrap to when pundits previously claimed everyone was copying Apple because the iPhone was a capacitive touch screen phone and suddenly more and more new smart phones were designed in such a way. However, let's not forget LG had a phone that shipped with the very same feature which was announced before the iPhone. The iPhone was clearly influential, but my point is that if LG got here before Apple, then it's silly to think the sole reason capacitive touch screens became popular was because of Apple.

Man and no one here thinks the darn iPhone 6 looks just like the previous HTC One? No one? Really? This is why I grow weary of tech, it's become dreadfully boring on account of all these single source consumers....

P.s. I could tell who Gruber was quoting before he even mentioned the name, same old, same old....prety sure Vlad is Mr "subjective is okay because Apple is subjectively better" --

I agree with Moonlight's basic comment....and I think there's more to the recent banning of Huawei phones from reseller partners than "security" allegations. I don't want to be a conspiracy theorist, but it seems like Huawei was gearing up to make a big consumer push and then suddenly a constant stream of anti Chinese tech news.

"....then suddenly a constant stream of anti Chinese tech news hit the wire."

There, fixed my silly typo. :)

I totally agree that there is a qualitative difference between what Huawei does, and what Apple does, but I'm not sure there's a reason to be particularly offended by what Huawei does. None of their customers are confused by Huawei's offerings. They don't mistakenly think they're buying an Apple product. They *know* they're buying a Huawei phone. I also don't think anyone who was about to buy an iPhone looks at the Huawei phone, and thinks "gee, I think I'll buy that instead."

So who exactly is the victim here? It seems to me that there are no losers. Huawei makes pretty things, people who buy Huawei products get what they want, iPhone owners can be smug about how Apple does everything first, and it's not costing Apple anything, either, but does show that they're the market leaders everyone else tries to imitate.

Everybody wins.

I wandered into a mobile phone store in China a couple weekends ago. There were huge posters up with photos of iPhone X-style phones, notch and all. The logo on the posters made it clear that these were Huawei phones, but it took me a few seconds to realize because the device and the photography style aped Apple’s. It’s clear that the intent isn’t to trick someone into buying one thinking that it’s an iPhone. The underlying message is simply: get the latest premium phone cheaper.

In a way it reminds me of buying imitation Reebok’s from Payless Shoes growing up.

@Nathan, the Essential phone is irrelevant to the discussion of copying. Yes, the Essential phone has a notch. But the iPhone has _the_ notch. It’s clear that these phones are imitating the iPhone, not the Essential phone.

Similarly, LG having used a capacitive touchscreen pre-iPhone doesn’t diminish the change Apple brought about with the original iPhone. Some parts of the device were wholly original, but many aspects had been done elsewhere first. It was the complete package that was a massive accomplishment and set the goalposts everyone else subsequently ran towards.

I think there’s a lot to cheer about when looking at what Huawei and others are doing. Seeing companies in China & Korea evolve rapidly from parts manufacturers to device makers are signs of strong progress. Anyone who wants to see poverty reduced in our world should take heart because these companies’ evolution up the profit chain are one of the ways that happens.

It’s simultaneously possible to point a finger at it and call it copying/design plagiarism/pick your preferred term. It is that too.

It should be possible to dislike Apple while recognizing that some competitors mimic their hardware and software very closely in order to ride their coattails. Whether that’s wrong or not is, I think, a much more complicated conversation.

@Nathan I don’t think using the same screen technology counts as plagiarism or even copying. The industry would probably have gone that way without Apple. No, I really don’t see what you’re seeing with the iPhone 6 and the HTC One. Surely the iPhone X design was locked before anyone even saw the Essential phone and its notch, so I don’t understand your point there.

@Lukas I think I pretty much agree with that.

Everything other companies copy from Apple is a "ripoff". Even when Apple clearly isn't the first to the market with it. Everything Apple copies from other companies is just fine, even when they do it much worse.

Can we stop with this dishonesty already?

Anonymous: It seems like you do not appreciate the distinction between following and plagiarism. Re-read Gruber's piece.

Michael Tsai,
Here's the thing, the technology for the notch is...drum roll please....display technology....yet, here we are, discussing what constitutes rip-offs. Counterfeits are a problem, sure, but design similarity is inevitable. It's a market dictation. No one complains TVs pretty much all look alike....honestly, who cares? No one is going to buy a Huawei phone and go "Shoot, thought I had an iPhone."

No, I don't think Apple copied the Essential phone, but to a degree, I don't think other companies are copying Apple, not in the way that is being suggested. There's a new type of display and people are putting it to use. Apple is very popular and if people like that style of cut out better than the Essential style, why not continue to use it for devices in the same market segment?

On the flip side, my personal opinion about this particular design has been negative. Yes, copying solely to copy is stupid and I completely agree with Gruber that copying the worst aspect of the iPhone X is even more stupid, if the sole reason is to just copy. However, there's a reason people went to this design, an attempt to gain more screen real estate. Whether it succeeds the way people think, I don't know. Again, I didn't even notice the cutout on the Essential at first blush, whereas the iPhone style is much more glaring. Polarizing if you will.

I honestly think that companies are saying, "If we want more glass on the front and we go the cutout route, why not do the same thing as Apple if customers want this design." Whether customers want the design, rather than they are just accepting tradeoffs to enjoy the other benefits of the iPhone X, again, I remain on the fence here.

As far as my HTC comment. Apple went to a unibody phone with very similar dimensions to the HTC. It's a very similar design. It's not an exact duplicate, to be fair. Yet, when HTC released the A9....look at the flak they took for copying the iPhone, but HTC was already making such phones. This whole narrative has grown tiresome to me because no one remembers the history here because pundits like Gruber are constantly pushing these silly arguments.

I likewise agree with Lukas. Well put.

I think everyone rides someones coattails. I guess because my first computer experiences were neither from an Apple (Mac or Apple II) nor DOS IBM clone, and likewise my first smart phone experiences far predated the iPhone's release (Android too given the timeline), I just have a different view of the technologies here. Look, I don't think the similarities between Apple design and Braun design is accidental, as one instance. Seems like we could decry Ive as derivative in his designs, but we don't....

I don't think it's strange that smartphones would move to touch screens given the Nintendo DS popularity, various Windows Mobile devices, Palm devices, and even some oddballs like the Sony Ericsson P series with Symbian/UIQ.

Ericsson P800 from 2002!!!!

Without connecting the optional physical dialer pad, sure looks kind of like an ancester of modern smart phones to me....

I think people follow what works, as a general conceit to usability. Touch screens in some incarnation were clearly going to be the future.

P.s. Golden Axe Warrior is nothing if not a clone of Legend of Zelda, but arguably it is a better game in many ways. If you've played LoZ, you will get the basics of gameplay and navigation of the Map very quickly; consequently, some people cried ripoff. However, I as a fan of Legend of Zelda (which in turn was clearly influenced by games like Hydlide) immensely enjoyed Golden Axe Warrior. As anyone who played Zelda 2: Link's Adventure and then yearned for more classic Zelda action can attest, this game was worth the play through.


Again, Zelda was the game that made the biggest impact, but it wasn't the first game. Yet, it's popularity ensures we called such games "Zelda clones" rather than Hydlide clones. But it's still good to understand Legend of Zelda was not created in a vacuum. Regular people might not want to understand the subtleties of this niche, but enthusiasts covering such things should damn sure be aware of these intricacies. I think we can draw parallels to Tech discussions, but maybe I'm off base. Either way, thinks for the insightful conversation.

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