Apple vs. Samsung: Forget icons, what about the workers?

The Samsung-Apple lawsuit is heating up as attorneys from both sides bicker over every detail imaginable (even while the judge is trying to make peace between them). The most interesting facet to me, though, is the debate over the icons, leading Apple lawyers to cry foul.

Meanwhile, the media overlooks the fact that Samsung is a slave driver! But I'll get to that in a minute.

First, let me bring some aspects of the lawsuit into the light of reality. I find it interesting that a primary complaint involves a telephone handset icon on a green background, and several other comparable icons. Lucky for Samsung, I wasn't called as an expert witness because many icons look suspiciously similar, if you ask me. I doubt I could tell which set belonged to which company. In fact, many of the Samsung icons are more attractive than the Apple ones, especially in the case of the phone handset icon.

So here's the problem and what should actually be discussed in court: For some reason, and this began long ago, the phone handset icon became a symbol for making calls when it’s not really relevant these days. There is no real reason to use it.

A Samsung designer from Korea said this icon was obvious and not stolen. But obvious to whom? I'll let that one pass. Other icon similarities are not so striking until we get to one that seems a bit much, even for my cynical biases: The Settings icon.

This gear is a serious stretch for Samsung. Now mind you, it is a standalone gear while the Apple icon shows a gear system. The Samsung gear is also stylised and does not look anything like a functional gear. Still, it seems to me that the intent of the Samsung gear is clearly derivative. It's a gear, after all, and there are no moving parts on the phone except for a couple of side buttons and the Apple home button. Where are the gears?

Now, gears have been symbolic over the years for inner workings, so it would make some sense to use gears to symbolise settings. There are a slew of other settings symbols that could be used, though. How about the word "settings"? I would actually prefer that rather than have to play a guessing game with the phone. Even slide switches, a big knob, or a checklist would get the point across. I hope that Samsung doesn't claim that gears are "obvious" because they are only obvious to those who already use the iPhone. I do not think Samsung has any valid excuse for either the handset or the gear.

But so what? Is this all Apple has? Are handset and gear icons a violation of intellectual property? Apple also complained about several other icons, including the Photos one. This is but a small piece of the overall experience. Is Cupertino also complaining about the use of black plastic? I mean, geez.

I understand the problem Apple has and it was expressed by a woman designer who took the stand to discuss the design process of Samsung. It seemed to me that Samsung was working her and the others to death. According to an article in Information Week, she was a new mum and the company had taken her from her child and forced her to work with two hours sleep for months, resulting in her breast milk drying up. Holy crap. Maybe I read this wrong but it sounds like an internment camp over at Samsung.

This is Apple's problem. It is not driving its employees like Samsung apparently is. This means Samsung will win and Apple has to sue to stay in the game.

The curious thing about the trial is that the woman's testimony seemed like some sort of victory for Samsung. A good defence of its use of the icons. I'm sorry, but to me at least, it only made it sound as if Samsung is running a gulag worse than Foxconn. For heaven's sake, a woman testified that Samsung worked her so hard that her ability to produce milk for her isolated child was halted. That’s horrible.

Where is the shame? Where is the condemnation? Samsung doesn't need that sort of image. It has some explaining to do, and not about the icons.