For Apple, the supply chain is a major competitive differentiator. Most manufacturers of mobile devices cobble together their devices from off-the-shelf components. The more aggressive ones use soon to ship components, perhaps working early exclusive deals for those components. Apple, however, often designs its own components, and has the manufacturer create those components to its specifications. And unlike mobile device manufacturers that place an “open source” solution atop their hardware to deliver the software user experience, Apple still writes its own code, including logic and features that are buried in the hardware (and tightly tied to software and performance).
The lawsuit against Samsung may be more about maintaining its supply chain secrets than patent violation at the device level. The Economist newspaper recently reported, Samsung manufactures roughly 26% of the components inside an iPhone (see Slicing an Apple, August 10, 2010).
What Apple may have discovered in the Galaxy Tab 10.1 was a movement of ideas among the component designers, not so much the systems level design. It would be hard, if not impossible, to create a thin computing device that does not pay homage to the iPad so there is little surprise that the Galaxy Tab is a thin glass and metal computing device with a touch screen. All of today’s tablets are. And that Apple isn’t suing every manufacturer of tablets as aggressively as Samsung may be the tell: it’s really about protecting the components, not the cosmetics.
If you are interested in a broader take, you may want to Mike Elgan’s post: The Field Guide to Apple’s Samsung Lawsuit.