Watts Martin writes why enforcing the iPhone design patents is important, and also should point out why Apple has been refining the design of the iPhone (via Daring Fireball):
That’s what Apple wants, too: products that look like Apple. They’ve nailed it. You can look at a computer or a tablet or a phone being used in a coffee shop and you can immediately tell Apple or not Apple even if you can’t see the logo. And this is virtually unique in their industry: you’ll usually need the logo to know exactly what the not Apple product is.
This is why trade dress battles are so important to Apple. Try introducing a soda in a container that’s easily mistaken for a Coke bottle and see how far “har har har, you can’t patent curved glass!” gets you as a defense. If somebody makes a product that can be easily mistaken for an Apple device, then Apple is going to do whatever they can to get that product either off the market or changed. And this is why Josh Topolsky is wrong when he says it doesn’t matter if a reviewer fails to mention when a competitor makes a product which is clearly following Apple’s design language. This isn’t about individual features and who did what first. If a company consciously attempts to make you think is that the new Apple thing? when you look at their new thing, and you know that’s what they’re doing, it’s noteworthy. It’s noteworthy because it’s a little sleazy.
Martin’s article gives me a few immediate thoughts: I think the complaints that the new iPhone is too “boring” and looks too much like its predecessors (some of which I’ve heard even today in passing) do go hand-in-hand with trying to define a brand based on a particular design. Having had a family member who had a career at Coca-Cola, I know that the contour bottle design is as sacred within the company as the script logo and dynamic ribbon (the white swirl). Bringing it back to Apple, how many times have you seen some sort of Apple computer on TV with the logo concealed, but still recognized it as an Apple product?