Tuesday, July 31, 2012


$219,000,000,000 and counting.  That is the value of the smartphone and tablet market for which Apple and Samsung seem locked in a duel to the death. Apple is suing Samsung for patent infringement. Samsung is doing the same to Apple. It is now in a court in San Jose, California. Some of the issues: Apple has a patent on the rounded-corner, rectangular shape of smart-phones. Samsung has patents on some of the transmission technology in smart-phones. Each side is spending many many millions of dollars on lawyers.

Apple claims that the Samsung smart-phones are illegal knockoffs of the iPhone. Well, in our household, we just happen to have one of each kind, and here they are:

   The one on the left is my Samsung Infuse; on the right is my wife's iPhone 3. Yep, they look exactly the same; the Samsung is a direct copy of the iPhone. Not.

What about the way they operate? The Samsung uses the Android OS (operating system), while the iPhone uses the Apple OS. I've tried both, and they are not the same. Sure, there are similarities, but there are many similarities between a Chevy and a Toyota.

We also each have an iPad; mine is the original (iPad 1), hers is the latest (iPad (iPad 3)).  We have not tried the Samsung tablets, but I imagine there are also many similarities.

So what's the deal here? Obviously, it is all about market share and profit. Data for the second quarter of 2012 show that Samsung has 33% of the global market of smart-phones, while Apple has 17%.  Apple has 62% of the global market for tablet computers, while Samsung has only 9%. And the value of these markets? That number with all the zeros at the beginning of this post: 219 billion dollars. Neither company can be satisfied with the numerous billions of dollars it makes every year - each needs more.

I would prefer if Samsung and Apple put more of their billions into supporting the products already in the hands of consumers, as well as pushing their industry into a more sustainable direction. Do we (the consumers) really need a new version of the iPhone every 6 months? Really? Do we really need to be hooked into an industry that tells us that the product we hold in our hand is obsolete almost as soon as we unpack it? What is the true cost of all these gadgets?

One true cost is the earth's climate. Here in Oregon, the battle lines have been drawn between the companies that want to export Montana coal to China through Columbia River ports, and the groups that oppose coal exports on the basis of impacts to local communities and to the climate. The irony I find is that all the smart-phones, tablets, and laptops used to post/tweet/facebook/email about this topic use gadgets made in China and other Asian countries that want our coal to power the factories making these devices. Would the demand for coal go away if we all stop buying these gadgets? (Probably not, but it's an interesting point to ponder for this discussion.)

So Apple and Samsung, good luck to you both. Unfortunately, the real loser in this will be the consumers. All the bull crap about free markets and competition flies out the window when billions of dollars are at stake. Neither of these monster corporations will lose as much as we consumers will.



  1. Apple has been the research wing of the tech industry since 1984. (Xerox PARC and Bell Labs were, before.) That said, the patent system is broken, and Samsung vs Apple is just one example of many.

    (There have been six iPhones in five years.)

  2. Tech reporters are too lazy to explain the
    patent lawsuit: http://techpinions.com/pinch-to-zoom-and-rounded-rectangles-what-the-jury-didnt-say/9465

    Btw, that's not an iPhone 3.