Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but that saying pretty much goes out the window when patents are involved. In fact, you might even say that, when it comes to smartphones, imitation is the quickest way to get sued. For evidence of this, look no further than the mobile world’s monoliths, Apple and Samsung; the two have been in patent litigation for years.
Now, there’s no question that Samsung has taken a bite out of Apple’s ideas in the past. But in light of Apple’s recent win in its patent case against Samsung, I started to think about it from the other way around.
There’s no doubt that Apple has been a tremendous leader in the mobile space, with ideas and innovations that have pushed the industry forward and changed cell phones immeasurably. But as the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer, Samsung is doing a lot of things right too. In fact, Apple could stand to take a lesson or two, or even five, from Samsung’s playbook. Here are some good places to start.
- More phone sizes
Since the first iPhone was released in 2007, Apple has only made one major change to the general size of the phone, increasing the display from 3.5 to 4 inches for last year’s iPhone 5. But it’s clear that smartphones aren’t a one-size-fits-all market, and no company demonstrates this better than Samsung.
The 5.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Note kicked off the phablet phenomenon, proving there’s a market for (much) bigger phones. But Samsung makes plenty of other sizes too, trying its hand on displays even smaller than the original iPhone’s 3.5 inches (on lots of older models), up to a whopping 6.3 inches on the Samsung Galaxy Mega. Sure, the iPhone 5 is a great fit for many hands, but a bigger screen gets you more of the movie you’re watching, more of the game you’re playing, and more of the web you’re browsing. A lot of people think bigger is better. Earlier this year, it was estimated that 150 million phablets would be sold in 2013 alone, accounting for 18 percent of all smartphones sales. I’m not saying that we need an iPhablet, but if Apple offered a bigger iPhone, I bet it would become more popular than the 4-inch version.
- Load up on the special features
Apple’s iOS is chock-full of essential, refined features, and so is Google’s Android. But Samsung manages to push things one step further, loading up its flagship phones with so many extra features you’ll probably never get a chance to even use them all before it’s time to upgrade.But you know what?Discovering a great new feature that improves your experience a year after you’ve had your phone is a pretty cool thing.Take the ability to customize in-call and music audio on the Samsung Galaxy S 3 and Galaxy S 4. Both of these phones feature excellent audio quality of the box, but Samsung’s built-in customization setting really kicks things up a notch, tuning audio to suit your hearing. Once you’ve used it, you start to wonder why it isn’t a standard feature on every phone. And that’s just one of the features Samsung has added on top of Android. Apple can use a dash of Samsung’s willingness to just throw some features in there to see if they stick, even if some of them never get used.
- How about some removable parts, like a battery and microSD card slot?
The iPhone has always featured a completely sealed-in battery, and if you want more storage you need to spend an additional $100 to step up to the next level. Now, a removable battery and a microSD card slot certainly aren’t exclusive to Samsung, but as more and more Android phones are leaving both behind (like the Moto X and the LG G2), Samsung’s flagship phones are always sure to include both — and it adds a lot of value to the user. A removable battery means you can always care a spare, and a microSD card slot allows you to easily increase your storage capacity up to an additional 64GB — far less than it would cost to buy a model with more internal storage.I get what Apple is doing — the industrial, unibody design of the iPhone 5 is thin, lightweight and attractive. But at 0.31-inch thick and 4.59 ounces, so is the Galaxy S 4. You lose the unibody design, but that’s barely a step up in terms of thickness and heft from the 0.30-inch thick, 3.95-ounce iPhone 5 — and you’re getting a full extra inch of display.
- More releases per year
In general, Apple releases a new iPhone once every 12 months. That allows for a fairly significant upgrade each time, but mobile technology is moving faster than ever. LTE only made its way to the iPhone last September, well over a year after Samsung released the Droid Charge, its first LTE smartphone for Verizon Wireless. And in addition to its big flagship phones, Samsung releases a ton of devices designed to suit a variety of tastes and budgets. Apple may finally be catching onto this if rumors of the budget-friendly iPhone 5C prove to be true, but this remains to be seen.
- Be a little more willing to borrow from others
OK, this is sort of what got Samsung into trouble in the first place, but it’s also what helped it rise to such a stratospheric level of smartphone dominance. Sure, Samsung is plenty capable of its own innovation, as we’ve seen from countless smartphones and inspired bits of TouchWiz coding. But it also isn’t afraid to borrow a good idea when it sees one. Apple, on the other hand, took over three years before deciding to borrow an Android-style pull-down notifications bar. And let’s not forget the hubristic experiment that is Apple Maps. Sometimes you really just need to be willing to go with the pack and borrow a good idea when you see one. If Apple does this, perhaps we’ll get an IR blaster, NFC support, and inductive charging on a new iPhone model in the future.
With a new iPhone release right around the corner, it’ll be interesting to see if Apple decides to incorporate any new innovations from its peers. Though Apple may not care to it admit it, there are plenty of great ideas out there just begging to borrowed.