Samsung: Copy? Yes. Transform? No. Combine? No.

There’s a great TED Talk with Kirby Feguson up on Vimeo’s Tumblr. It’s a 10-minute version of his awesome 4-part film series, Everything Is A Remix.

He starts off his presentation explaining how, at the height of his career, Bob Dylan was accused by “a small minority of dissenters” of stealing other peoples’ songs. He then fast-forwards to 2004 to talk about DJ Dangermouse’s The Grey Album, which was a remix of The Beatles The White Album and Jay-Z’s The Black Album.

The three techniques used to create these albums:

Copy. Transform. Combine.

But Ferguson says these techiques are not exclusive to music:

But I think these aren’t just the components of [music] remixing. I think these are the basic elements of all creativity. I think everything is a remix and I think this is a better way to conceive of creativity.

He then goes on to talk about the patent wars between smartphone manufacturers going on today. He calls out the apparent hypocrisy behind Steve Jobs’ intention “to go thermonuclear war” on Android for copying iOS and the iPhone when seen in the context of the original Macintosh being ‘inspired’ by the pinoneering work by Xerox PARC on the graphical user interface (GUI). To his credit, Ferguson talks about the theory of loss aversion–it’s ok when I copy another person’s work, but it’s not ok when someone else copies me (To use Ferguson’s language, Apple didn’t just copy the GUI work done at Xerox PARC, they combined and transformed it into something completely new with the Macintosh, but I’ll leave this for another post). Which leads me to Samsung.

Apple’s beef with Samsung isn’t that it stole Apple’s hardware and software—it’s that they copied Apple’s hardware, software, marketing and retail store design (via The Loop). Samsung has had no intention to remix anything they copied from Apple. Samsung’s intention with all of it’s Android smartphones has been to align as closely as possible with the look and feel of Apple products. Bob Dylan took melodies note-for-note from old folk songs, but you’re never confused. You always know it’s Dylan. This is because Dylan copied, transformed and remixed old media into something new.

Samsung stopped at copying and never bothered to remix anything. This is why many people confuse Samsung phones running Android for iPhones.

Update: Jim Dalrymple talked about this the other day too:

Apple had two blockbuster hit songs and Samsung stole them, note for note. That’s not right.

Microsoft and Palm also came out with smartphones after the iPhone. It’s interesting Jobs and Apple never went ‘thermonuclear’ on them like they did Samsung. I have a feeling this is because both Microsoft and Palm took the time to remix (in various degrees, Microsoft more than Palm) what Apple started with the iPhone. Does webOS look a lot like iOS? Absolutely. It has the DNA of the iPhone in it (Makes sense. The VP of hardware at Apple, Jon Rubinstein, became CEO at Palm/HP during that time). But if you’ve used a Palm Pre, you know it’s a Palm Pre. It has many characteristics unique to it, like cards and the Quick Wave Launcher.

Windows Phone 7 did the same thing, but they went even further. I’m not even sure you could say Microsoft even started with the Copy technique. They turned icons into tiles. They threw away drop shadows and gradients. They transformed the smartphone into something that makes sense to them.

Competition is important. Apple should not be the only company allowed to make multi touch smartphones and tablets, but to copy, almost pixel-for-pixel, what Apple has created is to concede Apple has done everything perfectly with iOS and the iPhone. The thing is, they haven’t. When a company creates a new smartphone they have the opportunity to remix what’s been done and present something fresh and new.

Maybe all Samsung wants is a product approaching ‘iPhone-ness’, but I’d like to think they have a lot of talented designers, developers and engineers who could come up with something good, maybe even great. People with the ability to remix.

Then I always remember we’re talking about a hardware company that doesn’t know how to make software. Who seems to have no interest in learning how to make software. Who licenses their mobile operating system from another company.