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When HTC announced the A9 this week, some felt a strange twinge of déjà-vu: how could this familiar metal clad phone actually be “brand new?” Indeed allegations of copy-cat craftsmanship had been circulating for weeks now. After the official unveiling however, a much more vocal claim has been made, HTC it seems, is not very amused by the coarse commentary and spoke out about such similarities.

Jack Tong, President of HTC North Asia, had the following to say at a press event held today for the Taiwanese launch of the new phone:

“We’re not copying. We made a uni-body metal-clad phone in 2013. It’s Apple that copies us in terms of the antenna design on the back.”

The 2013 device in-question, for those wondering, was none other than the HTC One (M7), which truly turned heads at the time for making liberal use of metal in a time when everyone else was pushing plastic or gushing over glass.

Mr. Tong continued, stating that:

“The A9 is made thinner and more lightweight than our previous metal-clad phones. This is a change and evolution, and we’re not copying.”

First come, fast forgotten

The Verge Apple HTC A9 The Verge

The current accusations that HTC faces are hardly new in the mobile space. Apple – thanks to its high brand awareness and solid sales – occupies a pioneering place in the minds of the mainstream. For the vast majority of the world’s population, the iPhone was the first smartphone, and the iPad the first tablet. Seemingly everything these two products entail were all done by Apple first, a misconception that is only furthered by the company’s finely crafted marketing and liberal use of adjectives.

To all those who got there first however, their achievements are essentially forgotten. Numerous tablets were made running Windows XP, for example. Japan had NFC and even fingerprint readers over a decade ago. PDAs were basically prototype smartphones. Touch screens were first described in 1965. The whole situation is not unlike that which Nintendo enjoyed when it “invented” motion sensing (Wii), for example.

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Line-up: Both the HTC One M7 (right) and One M8 (left) released before the iPhone 6 was ever announced.

While it’s quite easy to see the similarities between the HTC A9 and the Apple iPhone 6S, it’s also quite easy to see the similarities between the Apple iPhone 6 and the HTC One M7. Yet, because the public became aware of metal bodies and antenna lines through Apple’s design language, it makes sense that some individuals would have a gut reaction of a copy-cat crisis. The same has already been made about the Lenovo PHAB Plus, for example.

Privy to Preparedness

Aside from the strong words issued by Mr. Tong, a new leak provides some insight into the way the company is seeking to educate its staff about the claimed copying:

one-a9-training-slide

The slide is quite direct in what it states, and serves to reiterate the talking points mentioned earlier today in Taiwan.

A cross-licensing misconception

Around the time Apple and Samsung were waging war in a California courtroom, the Cupertino-based company entered into a cross-licensing agreement with HTC. Although the actual terms of deal are unknown, under the agreement, HTC is free to use the following technologies and UI elements on smartphones during the decade, among others:

  • Slide to unlock
  • Universal search
  • Bounce scrolling
  • Scroll locking

Nowhere was it specifically mentioned that HTC is given a green-light to copy Apple’s product designs however, and indeed this may be why the company has yet to sue the Taiwanese-based OEM on hardware design-related matters. It is thus erroneous to assume HTC is somehow “within its rights” to clone the iPhone and Apple would literally have to look the other way.

What’s to come

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Lenovo has already been accused by some for “cloning” the iPhone.

Given that the HTC A9 was just announced, we won’t know how sales fare for some time. The device has certainly managed to pique the interest of those in the market for a mid-range product, and has definitely got people talking. Perhaps HTC could ask for nothing more, as this makes for an enormous amount of free press, the likes of which would otherwise cost exorbitant sums of money to generate.

It remains to be seen as to what Apple ultimately has to say about the device, if anything at all. If the company should take a critical opinion of the design, it would be an almost hypocritical statement given the iPhone 6’s similarities to the M7. In many ways, this new issue represents a very critical look at what Tim Cook’s Apple will do, as opposed to what Steve Job’s Apple already did.

Perhaps one thing that is a bit more certain, is that HTC will seek to focus on this new design language in the future, with Mr. Tong indicating it will be carried over to the M-series as well as the Desire line.