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Apple Design Chief On Copycat Phones: 'It's Theft And It's Lazy'

The answers were to particular questions about Xiaomi, often referred to as the "Apple of China." And it's often a line pulled by Steve Jobs.

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Apple's design chief Jony Ive has harsh words for competitors that are taking design cues from the company's phones.

In particular, he's not impressed with the phones designed by Xiaomi, one of the highest-profile new smartphone designers in China. At the Vanity Fair New Establishment summit, he was asked about the smartphone design of Xiaomi, a company often referred to as the "Apple of China," which is rapidly emerging as a creator of one of the best-designed Chinese smartphones.

"I think it is really straightforward," said Ive, who is responsible for Apple's industrial design group. "It is theft and it is lazy. I don't think it is ok at all."

His response was to a question over whether Ive felt "flattered" that many new phones designed by Chinese manufacturers were taking design cues from Apple's new phones. That kind of knee-jerk rejection is not uncommon, as Apple founder Steve Jobs was famous for calling out Android devices as copying Apple software and hardware.

China is an increasingly important market for Apple. It is the word's largest mobile market, and Apple has found success in still selling its phones at a premium to other more affordable Android devices. Ive basically said the company's imitators are taking advantage of the years of work that Apple put into its phones and software.

"I'll stand a little bit harsh, I don't see it as flattery," he said. When you're doing something for the first time, you don't know it's gonna work. You spend 7 or 8 years working on something, and then it's copied. I have to be honest, the first thing I can think, all those weekends that I could have at home with my family but didn't."

In the panel, Ive also shared some new details about Apple's otherwise mysterious industrial design group. For example, the team is small: only about 16 people, he said. The team meets around a table not unlike those seen in Apple's stores and brainstorms ideas through a mix of conversations and drawings.

All that inevitably distills down to the devices that Apple machines, tests, and then mass produces and sells in the tens of millions every quarter. For example, Ive said Apple had been exploring larger-screened phones like its competitors had made, but had to ensure it wasn't "clunky." "We realized this is going to be important, larger screens, but we needed to do a lot of things [to] yield a compelling product," he said.

Matthew Lynley is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News in San Francisco. Lynley reports on Silicon Valley and the tech industry.

Contact Matthew Lynley at

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