Nokia Design EVP Thanks Apple's Lawyers

During the closing arguments of Apple's patent lawsuit against Samsung, Harold McElhinney, lead counsel for Apple, contended that design innovation was indeed happening outside Cupertino, notably with Nokia's Lumia device series. "Every smartphone does not have to look like an iPhone," he said, displaying pictures for the jury of Lumia and other smartphones, which were intended to show the lack of innovation happening at Samsung.

The Lumia 900, with its polycarbonate unibody and bold cyan colors, was one of the most compelling alternatives to the iPhone when it hit market, and today, Nokia unveiled its latest iteration: the Lumia 920. Featuring a 4.5-inch curved glass display, inductive charging and NFC functionality, as well as Windows Phone 8, Nokia's newest flagship is proof there is life beyond iPhone, as McElhinney had argued. "I saw [his] quote, and I was like, 'Thank you,'" says Marko Ahtisaari, executive VP of design at Nokia, with a smile. "The best way to respect competition is to do something meaningfully better that's different--not different for the sake of being different, but something that's meaningfully different and a new expression."

With Apple's $1 billion patent-infringement victory over Samsung, device makers across the industry are likely reassessing their approaches to hardware design. But while some believe the trial's outcome could spark widespread industry innovation, others argue that forced differentiation does not equate with innovation--it could lead to "different and dumb," as my colleague Kyle Vanhermert put it.

Ahtisaari agrees that different is not always better but sees opportunity in the lack of differentiation currently in the market. "You look out there, and it's a sea of black and gray and occasionally white devices with rounded corners," he says. "That's what the market is right now: hugely competitive but a lot of stuff that just looks the same."

For the Lumia 920, he thought, "Can we make an expression that's modern and new?" His design team pushed to refine the device's polycarbonate body, add wireless charging capability, and create an aesthetic that meshed well with Microsoft's metro design language of Windows 8, colors and all. "I think we've done [something modern and new]...and Apple's lawyers seem to agree," Ahtisaari quips.

But Ahtisaari stresses that Nokia is not being different for the sake of being different. "We're a company that's turning around and design is playing a big role in that," he says. "You build a recognizable identity for products over time, and you evolve and refine that."

He adds, "It's not, 'Next month we'll make a trapezoidal [device]!' We're not thinking that way."

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17 Comments

  • Me

    I actually really like the direction not only Nokia is going with the Lumia but also Microsoft with Windows 8 interface. It's nice to see something that doesn't feel like it evolved so much from an iPhone. 

  • Lux Asidee

    Apply the same sentence "You look out there, and it's a sea of black and gray and occasionally white devices with rounded corners," to the car industry... you might understand how stupid the reasoning is. Not mentioning the ass-licking taste of it.

  • Flamepanther

    Look at the front face. It's a black rectangle with rounded corners inside a yellow rectangle with corners rounded in only one dimension. Wow, "innovation!"

  • Web3982

    Well, let me add my voice of thanking Apple's lawyers, for giving me on more reason not to buy Apple's products!

  • Tmariner

    Forget design innovations from the EVP of Nokia -- you hope what they learned was the real lesson -- everything you do should be patented in excruciating detail. The colors, the charging, the W8 screens, etc. The prize is not just great sales, it is torpedoing a competitor once they have gotten their product shipped and getting a mind-boggling cash judgement. 

    Notice that you don't go after the other guy until he has invested in his plant and product -- if you wanted to stop him, you would inform him when specs were announced. For example Apple is upset with the Galaxy S3. That is the third in the line of S's that stretches back almost two years with pretty much the same features.

    I am guessing that Mr. Ahtisaari already knows this and is working to add Intellectual Property to his title as the design feature that really counts. All this stuff about "meaningful" is junk -- he knows the game now is to stay clear of Apple's patents. Not what they produce and deliver -- what they write down. Because once they have used the legal system to sink Google's Android platform, Windows and Nokia are next on the menu. Unless, of course it is not flat and has a touchscreen. Round and buttons is great.

  • bananas

    The true Apple is emerging as the evil empire who is the big bully patent troll on the block taking advantage of the flawed U.S. patent system to compete. Technology products evolve towards similar form and useability because it is intuitive to use devices in a common method. Apple patents for their icon look, rectangle case, pinch and zoom are fundamental, however how you implement the function is specific and could be patented.

    I like to see this case goes to the Supreme Court for a final verdict.

  • Hugo

    I agree, going with the car analogy as commented somewhere else on here, it's like Ford trying to sue Volvo for placing the gears in the middle, clutch on the left, and a wheel to control the steering. 

    It's true Apple 'came up with' pinch to zoom ect (or just the first to actually implement it on their devices) but Ford had products with 5 doors before Volvo was making cars. 
    Well I've fucked up what I was trying to say, but you get the idea. 

  • SixthGradeReadingLevel

    atheistic is not the same as aesthetic ..... please proofread...

  • Tyler Fastcompany Gray

    Why, when we've got a sixth-grade reader on the case?! Kidding. Thanks. It's rare, but occasionally the publishing pace outpaces the proofing pace. That or Carr is trying to sneak his Atheist agenda into stories again. Either way, now edited.   

  • acarr

    Totally intention. Design = my religion.

    But yeah, good catch. Thanks for the note.

  • SixthGradeReadingLevel

    Sorry... couldn't help my self. My SixthGradeReadingLevel from a Catholic school creates an obligatory hyper-sensitivity to anything Atheistic :P 

  • Kelley

    It's only a matter of time until Apple sues Nokia, it's what they do. If there are any doubters just google "Apple Sues".

  • spacespeed

    Unlikely. Nokia sued Apple earlier, and got a settlement from this - I'm sure this settlement includes some kind of cross-licensing agreement. All this product injunctions stuff is just pointless, though. Nokia didn't feel the need to try to ban the iPhone from the market, despite the fact that it was infringing on certain patents.

    That being said, Toshiba should actually make Shapes tablets. That would be innovative and interesting.

  • Xinzic

    As I recall my memory, Apple has to pay Nokia 11$ for every iPhone sales.  Not sure if they are still paying.