Over the weekend, John Gruber linked to an article at The Verge titled, “The Galaxy Alpha is Samsung’s most beautiful phone ever.” The point was to note how Samsung has once again copied Apple’s industrial design. True, the Galaxy Alpha isn’t an exact copy of the iPhone 5s, but telltale design elements—like the chamfered edges around the body—are obviously Apple-inspired.
I don’t get too worked up about copycat design, partially because Samsung has been such an easy target for this sort of thing in recent years. But I wanted to check it out, and it is a nice-looking phone. Regardless of whether a company makes millions of them, it’s hard work to design and manufacture today’s mobile devices.
But then I scrolled through the photos and saw this, which I annotated as a screenshot and shared on Twitter:
— Jeff Carlson (@jeffcarlson) September 7, 2014
What the Freak is that bulge? Clearly, the headphone port didn’t fit well enough to maintain a clean line, so Samsung had to make a bulge to accommodate it. I don’t know the backstory. Perhaps the company switched to a lower-priced component late in the design process, or they ran out of time to rework the internal boards before it had to be sent to manufacture.
What is obvious, and what blatantly contrasts with Apple, is that someone at Samsung failed to say, “No. That’s ugly. Make it better.” As we know from its past products and interviews with Jony Ive and others, Apple wouldn’t let something like that hit the market. It’s a visual distraction. It looks like an error, like someone at Samsung said, “Ehh, it’s good enough. Customers won’t care. Ship it.”
(My favorite replies following the post were by Greg Koenig (@gak_pdx), an expert on manufacturing, who could tell from the photos how the Alpha was machined:)
@jeffcarlson The tell-tale cheapness is the interpolated finish on the round corner. The mill is running too fast. CNC version of jaggies
— Greg Koenig (@gak_pdx) September 7, 2014
Which of course is the problem with Samsung and the advantage of Apple. Apple genuinely cares about design and about how people interact with its products. Apple wants people to love their phones, not put up with them until the cellular contract runs out. By respecting design and respecting the customer, Apple gets respect in turn.
Apple is on the record, many times, saying that being able to say No to something is a vital part of their design process. Someone at Samsung needed to say no and didn’t.
Oh, and if you think Apple is immune to this type of thing, don’t forget the original iPhone. It was a marvel of manufacturing and design at the time, but its headphone port was recessed, which meant you could only use the provided earbuds or else buy an adapter to use standard headphones. The difference between it and the Galaxy Alpha’s bulge is that the iPhone’s recessed jack was a deliberate design decision, made to maintain the curve of the case. Ultimately it wasn’t a good decision, as the jack was flush in the iPhone 3G.