04
May
lawyer

The Galaxy S III is... well... it's ugly. There's really no other way to put it. But why? Why is it ugly? I don't mean aesthetically, why is it ugly, I mean, "How did something like this ever make it out of Samsung's design studio?" I'll tell you how, it was never in the design studio. This phone design was born down the hall, in a room where the door sign reads "Samsung Legal."

It was designed by lawyers.

I can tell just from the press shots, this thing is a Samsung lawyer's dream. I'm sure you must be thinking,"Hmm, that's a weird assumption to make." but don't worry, an explanation is forthcoming. We're going to take a trip, way, way back to the prehistoric times of April 18, 2011: The day Apple claimed ownership of the rectangle.

Remember this? It's Apple's trade dress lawsuit against Samsung. For those that don't remember, or just weren't paying attention: "Trade Dress" is a legal thing, a form of intellectual property, basically a trademark for how a product looks, as opposed to a logo or word. Like a trademark offers protection to the use of a word or the look of a logo, trade dress offers protection on design. Trade dress lets Apple say to Samsung "Your product looks too much like our product; prepare to be sued into oblivion!"

Back in April 2011, Apple's trade dress infringement claims against Samsung went like this:

  • a rectangular product shape with all four corners uniformly rounded;
  • the front surface of the product dominated by a screen surface with black borders;
  • as to the iPhone and iPod touch products, substantial black borders above and below the screen having roughly equal width and narrower black borders on either side of the screen having roughly equal width;
  • as to the iPad product, substantial black borders on all sides being roughly equal in width;
  • a metallic surround framing the perimeter of the top surface;
  • a display of a grid of colorful square icons with uniformly rounded corners; and
  • a bottom row of square icons (the "Springboard") set off from the other icons and that do not change as the other pages of the user interface are viewed.
  • That is basically a list of things you aren't allowed to do. Now, individually, those traits aren't worthy of a lawsuit. It's the combination of those things that will send Apple Legal over to kick down your door. The combination of those attributes got the Galaxy S and SII in legal hot water, so for the S III, Samsung made this list their "Hey, don't do this" design guidelines. That's right, the entire phone design revolves around not pissing off Apple.

    Why should Samsung care about what Apple thinks? Well for one, there's the aforementioned legal goon squad, and for two, Apple is one of Samsung's biggest customers. Not for phones - walking around Apple campus with a Galaxy phone sounds like a good way to get fired - Apple is one of Samsung's biggest customers for components. Samsung makes all sorts of phone and tablet components: CPUs, RAM, flash memory, displays, and more, and they want Apple to buy them - and they do. The iPhone 4, for example, owes about 25% of its component cost to Samsung. Apple sells a lot of phones, so that's a lot of cash in Samsung's pocket. The iPhone/Galaxy battle is a win/win for Samsung, and they would like to keep it that way.

    Which brings us back to the The Phone Designed By Lawyers. Maybe you aren't a believer yet. Well, it's time for some evidence. Let's run down the list of trade dress grievances, shall we?

    A rectangular product shape...

    not-a-rectangle

    Geometry 101: A rectangle is a plane figure with four straight sides and four right angles. I've placed the GSIII inside a rectangle, so you can see how much of a rectangle it is not. Corners are addressed in the next section, so we'll ignore those for now, we're mainly concerned with the sides.

    A rectangle needs to have parallel sides; the GSIII sides aren't straight at all. The outmost part is about 1/3rd of the way down, with serious curves leading to the top and bottom. So it's very much not a rectangle, or a rounded rectangle, or even horizontally symmetrical. It's more of an amorphous blob.

    ...with all four corners uniformly rounded;

    corners

    Nope. The top and bottom corners are not the same shape. Observe the outlines of the top-left and bottom-left corners. Note how they are different.

    The front surface of the product dominated by a screen surface with black borders

    notblack

    Having a giant screen on the front is kind of unavoidable. The only colors available though, are white and dark blue. Neither of those colors are black. The lawyers can sleep easy.

    Substantial black borders above and below the screen having roughly equal width

    GSIIImeasurements

    Apple's use of "roughly" is really obnoxious, but just in case they get into minutia (lawyers love minutia!), the top and bottom borders are not the same size. These to-scale measurements show the top bezel is about 16% smaller than the bottom. Also, they're not black!

    a metallic surround framing the perimeter of the top surface;

    You've got me there. The GSIII has a metallic band around the edge. I guess they just couldn't resist. Like I said earlier, it's not any one item that will get Samsung in trouble, it's the combination of them. A chrome band shouldn't cause too much trouble.

    a display of a grid of colorful square icons with uniformly rounded corners

    not-rounded-icons

    The Galaxy S (left) put colorful, square backgrounds around all of its icons. They stopped with the SII, and that carried over to the SIII.

    a bottom row of square icons (the "Springboard") set off from the other icons and that do not change as the other pages of the user interface are viewed.

    no-dock

    On the Galaxy S I and II, (left and center, respectively) the dock stuck around when you entered the app drawer. On the SIII (right), Samsung Legal deemed the dock must die. It's there when you scroll through home screens, but it goes away when you enter the app drawer.

    So there you have it. A darn-near perfect explanation of the GSIII design. Sure, it's butt ugly, but it's also 100% (well maybe 90%) lawyer approved.  An amorphous, unsymmetrical blob that doesn't come in black, with a non-permanent dock and non-square icons. There's no way Apple can add this design to their Samsung lawsuit.

    So Samsung, was it worth it? Your product won't sell as well, but you won't piss off one of your biggest component customers either. I understand the motivation, but I still feel like you've sold your soul.

    When Apple started patent trolling, they basically admitted they weren't going to win in an open market, and they decided to drag Samsung down with them. The crazy thing is, Samsung is letting them. They've ceded ownership of the rectangle and other common sense design traits to Apple, and did everything they could to bow down to their largest customer.

    The result? A phone designed by lawyers. What a scary precedent.

    Ron Amadeo
    Ron loves everything related to technology, design, and Google. He always wants to talk about "the big picture" and what's next for Android, and he's not afraid to get knee-deep in an APK for some details. Expect a good eye for detail, lots of research, and some lamenting about how something isn't designed well enough.
    • http://www.facebook.com/enigma69 John Wentworth

      I know this may not be a popular opinion but I don't think the S3 is ugly, the only thing I take issue with is that it's not available in black, many things such as the removal of colorful backgrounds from icons are actually welcomed, it's the way google intended.
      And the shape is actually very nice, I welcome slight curves, no reason a phone has to be an absolute rectangle, as long as the curves aren't too big (waste of space) it adds some character to the device and even if it was partially inspired by a desire to not get sued I think they've done a good job.

      The S3 could very well be my next phone, it depends on what htc releases on verizon before November. 

    • Bulte_ralph

      Leave it to apple to (re)make the same model phone every year and hype it to their believers, this is a case of samsung realizing that it needs to *think different* (yes pun intended)
      And since i'm vehemently opposed to use any apple product, I sure as hell don't want my samsung to look like one, so this is the first i'll buy! 

    • http://www.facebook.com/Setok Kristoffer Lawson

      Is the G SIII really that butt ugly? I mean it's not like the previous iterations were things of beauty to begin with. And they were so obvious iPhone clones on the design side that I would constantly mistake one for an iPhone (which never happens with, e.g. the beautiful Nokia N9 — which then got turned into the Lumia things).

      Besides, dark blue is cool.

    • Vertarosta

      So? It's still a great phone

    • Jamesoldd

       Yep, that's Nice. I made some good hot review, specs, Apps, and more to new Galaxy if you want you easy can get it here http://bit.ly/JkOeYm
      Thanks!

    • Newwt86

      brb, patenting shapes and colors!!

    • W_Orth

      You are correct in Samsung is avoiding similarities to Apple products, but I strongly disagree that the S3 is ugly.

    • fish1552

      I don't see where the hate is.  I *like* the shape.  I think it would make for a better fit in your hand the way it is designed.

      Although, I don't see the reason for the chrome band.  Both my Android phones had no chrome and they looked great.  And I kind of like the dark blue.  The white just seems like it might be hard to get a feel for the size of the screen.

    • DanielM

      this is hilarious yet so sad for other smart phone makers.

    • SlipperieSlope

      Apple is ridiculous.. Their "dress patent" describes about 95% of all smartphones as well as a big chunk of the generation of feature phones that was trying to compete with the iPhone 1. I assume that the "dress patent" doesn't apply to just phones either. Apple could look at a very large number of easily pocket-able point-and-shoot cameras, squint, and apply all those standards to said cameras. TV's, monitors, computer cases viewed from the side, hell, my wallet fits some of those standards..

      "Dress patents" shouldn't be allowed to exist. Did the guy who made the second refrigerator get sued into oblivion by the guy who made the first refrigerator because his fridge had the same shape with two doors? Doubt it. Apple is simply following a dead man's will to eradicate Android because Steve Jobs could foresee the doom of iOS.

    • SlipperieSlope

      Apple is ridiculous.. Their "dress patent" describes about 95% of all smartphones as well as a big chunk of the generation of feature phones that was trying to compete with the iPhone 1. I assume that the "dress patent" doesn't apply to just phones either. Apple could look at a very large number of easily pocket-able point-and-shoot cameras, squint, and apply all those standards to said cameras. TV's, monitors, computer cases viewed from the side, hell, my wallet fits some of those standards..

      "Dress patents" shouldn't be allowed to exist. Did the guy who made the second refrigerator get sued into oblivion by the guy who made the first refrigerator because his fridge had the same shape with two doors? Doubt it. Apple is simply following a dead man's will to eradicate Android because Steve Jobs could foresee the doom of iOS.

    • Stylinred

      grid icons is a nokia thing odd that apple tried to claim that as their own
      Jobs should be really ashamed... but he was always a shameless sod

    • Paulie

      Well, Ron, if you want a phone that looks like an iPhone why don't you buy an iPhone and get the genuine article instead of the inferior knock-off?

      You acknowledged as much in your comment about how "the Galaxy/iPhone battle is win/win for Samsung." Piggy back Apple's success by supplying components for the incredibly popular iPhone and rip off its design and intellectual property at the same time... Remember, Apple has had success in its law suits against Samsung, which is yet to land a blow on Apple!I hope Apple terminates them from their supply chain (and the latest evidence is that they are moving their chip and screen supply channels away from Samsung). That'll learn 'em not to rip off Apple's products/designs/IP!The look and feel, the Chairman's nephew's Samsung-certified-but-not-really "Smart Cases" and even Little Miss Tablet who featured in Apple's iPad commercials!

    • Global Philosopher

      I'm thinking of starting a website called http://www.android-police.com.
      Basically it is going to be much like your website. I may even duplicate many of your articles.

      Why? Cause I want to make money and you site seems popular enough.

      Is that the type of free market you want to compete in?

    • GS3

      What's ugly? What's beautiful? It's really relative; I like GSIII, for me it looks goo...

    • Slowpoke

      I disagree with you people saying "innovative" - with or without an Apple lawsuit, the SGSIII is butt-ugly.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1162278746 Ingmar Sdlr

      Your phone will not sell as well.... 9 million preorders for the S3 compared to the 4,5 mio preorders of the Iphone 4s... well actually you're wrong..
      and (compared to an iphone) i could switch my backcover with soon to be released 3rd party backcovers

    • GavinSpaceFace

      No question about it. This thing is a hideously ugly pile of crap IMO. Aesthetically it's just  clunky, ugly and gross. I'm not an apple fanboi, but the monstrosities that other phone manufacturers keep pumping out makes me laugh until my throat hurts.

    • Scott_the_captain

      I was going to get the Iphone 4S, but was educated by a friend that is very tech savy, and an Android fan to get something else.  He admitted it is a good phone, that Android is better, and for me being a first time smartphone buyer, better to start with.  I wanted Siri, which would make moving around easier for me...with the Galaxy SIII, the S-Voice drew me in, but it was the other features and the look that one me over.  I am waiting with baited breath for the SIII, to which I will be getting 2 of them, 1 for me, and 1 for my wife.  As a first time user, I am starting with the best!  Way to win me over Samsung...and I have not even touched it yet.

    • captaan

      yup whatever you say man , galaxy sold much , S2 sold millions , S3 will be sold more from them all , why you kept comparing with iphone ? its almost clearify that you own iphone at the moment thats why you are jealous for this s3 :P , iphone is nowhere near to samsung technology , peace !!

    • Hello

      Question, how could I send an email with 10 attachment with my iPad?
      Answer, send 10 emails...each email with one attachemnt

    • itscanny

      I... don't think it's ugly at all.  Further, UI layout? Samsung used the same layout as TouchWiz on Android with their pre-Android (and way-pre-iPhone), own OS devices.

      Apple should be the ones in hock for that one.

    • Apple is RETARDED

      I hate to post on such an old topic, but so many people's post made me shake my head. Does anyone else NOT notice that every other smartphone is rectangular? That every other smatphone has a boarder around the touch screen? That the touch screen covers the majority of the front of the phone? Do trucks look all the same besides the lights and the front grill? YES holy fuck, people you can only make a phone so many designs. Do you really want a square phone, or circle phone, or a freaking oval phone? Stop complaining that Samsung is copying Apple because it's obvious they are NOT. MY goodness my SII looks so much like my brothers iPhone 4...NOT. When was the last time Samsung made a small as phone with a 3.5 inch touch screen?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1082130257 Oren Skurnik

      I've got to tell you, while your article is well written and researched, the aesthetics of a product are purely subject to opinion. I have the S III and I love the look and feel of the phone. I have been with HTC since the first EVO, upgrading to the EVO 3D when it came out (and I couldn't wait to get rid of it.) Compared to the S III, the EVO was boring in design. The Samsung is thinner, lighter and nicer to hold. It's curved sides and rounded edges a more pleasant then the sharp lines and edges of the HTC. I think the S III is by far a sexier phone all around.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gonzalo.garciapoveda Gonzalo García Poveda

      Why do you say the Galaxy S3 is ugly??? I love it!!! Waiting to get mine!!!

    • photohounds

      Ugly? 10,000,000 customers in the first MONTH (only 2 weeks in usa) disagreed with you.

      Ever picked one up and feel how comfortable a NON rectangle feels in the hand?

    • John

      Apple is ship... Nuff said

    • http://www.facebook.com/RangoM Mikael Katina

      I understand why they would want to avoid any legal troubles, of course. However, in my opinion there is nothing ugly about this phone at all. I personally own a Galaxy nexus, and my boyfriend owns the S3. I have to say, aesthetically the phone is gorgeous all around. It feels amazing in the hand and the toned down and improved version of the touchwiz nature ux is far more fluid and superior than that on the S2 and Note. Another thing, as of the week of the 23rd of July sales for this phone have surpassed the 10 million mark and I don't see the sales stopping anytime soon. This article seems to be putting the phone down, but for the common consumer this is the best android phone available on the market right now.. in my opinion.

    • Ray

      The device is not ugly. Maybe you're just looking at it with ugly eyes.

    • Ray

      The curved front facing glass is amazing. The phone itself feels so natural in the hand. I am not against Apple's design, but I would rather hold a GS3 in the hand, rather than an iDevice.

    • Anon

      They'll be having to make their Tablets round from now on . . .
      Who owns the rights to rectangles with sharp corners btw . . . ? ;)

    • td99

      Good article. It ties together two things I'm interested in: Apple's lawsuit against Samsung and the Galaxy SIII. That said, I own an iPod Touch 2G and still think the Galaxy SIII isn't "butt ugly". In fact, I personally like the styling a lot. Probably going to be my next phone.

    • http://www.facebook.com/reinaldocfilho Reinaldo Camargo Filho

      Why they don't at least made an squared phone with some non-slip rear?

      It's simple.

      My Galaxy S2 still the most beautiful smartphone, look at the details and you'll see.

      Galaxy S3 is the best performance phone, but it looks horrible, with those corners and cheap material.

    • re343432

      fuck apple.. apple is da sh it

    • shrntate

      1. This phone is beautiful! A work of art.
      2. Is 10 million sold, still counted as not selling well?

    • Sean Maxwell

      Maybe it's just me but I love the s3 design

    • Egghead

      Funny how this article's prediction and implications are so wrong since the S3 has been awarded multiple accolades beating out the iPhone and sold in millions since it's launch.

    • catherine

      At least you can dress up the case! I have this same phone, and like with everything else in my life I love to accessorize so that's what I did with my phone too! I personally made a photo collage for mine and here are some tips if you have never made a photo collage,
      http://www.case-monkey.com/create-a-photo-collage-for-your-custom-ipad-case/?aid=ln

      but at least through my experience I have found that this is a great phone and it does look 100 times better at least with some kind of case.