Why copying Apple just doesn’t work

Tue, Jan 26, 2010

Analysis, News

If you paid any attention to CES this year, you might have noticed an abundance of tablet devices from a slew of companies presumably looking to preempt Apple’s Tablet announcement this coming Wednesday. Microsoft in particular boasted about a line of new “Slate PCs” running Windows 7 that will be hit stores in 2010.

Call me crazy, but I’d bet good money that if it weren’t for all of the hype surrounding Apple’s fast-approaching tablet, tablet “knockoffs” (used preemptively, of course) at CES would be few and far in between. What we essentially have are a number of companies reasoning to themselves – “Gee, Apple sure has an eye for knowing where the market is going. Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz about some new tablet thing-a-ma-bob that Apple has in the works. I guess tablets are the next big thing, so it probably makes a lot of sense for us to get on this tablet business as soon as possible. And hey! CES 2010 is just a few months away. Let’s get some teams together and see what we can hammer out.”

The problem with all these companies following in Apple’s footsteps is the simple fact that they have no gameplan. They’re reflexively getting into a new market only because Apple, so says the hype machine, may soon own it. In doing so, these companies put a greater emphasis on getting to the market first or adding in as many features as possible than they do on creating an amazing new product that people would be interested in regardless of Apple’s entry into a market.

Apple, on the other hand, sees things differently. Apple doesn’t get into a market simply because it happens to be hot or popular at the moment. If that were the case,  Apple would have come out with a netbook a looong time ago. On the contrary, Apple succeeds because it has a gameplan right from the beginning and it’s products are often much greater than the sum of their parts. The iPod, for example, was a lot more than just a music player – together with iTunes, it literally changed the way people listened to music.

This following post from Penny Arcade sums things up aptly:

It’s got to be so annoying to compete with Apple, at anything really, because it’s not like they’re doing something fucking crazy. Everybody’s had these ideas before. The difference, and this is grim if you are a competitor, but the difference is that everyone else spends a lot of time (and often, money) determining why those things aren’t possible. And then it comes out, for real, only you didn’t make it.  Some other guys did.  And when you come out with what is (on paper) a better version of the same thing, maybe even multiple times over, it’s too late.  You made a “product” to compete with their “product,” tastefully arranging your regiment, only to discover that they hadn’t made a product at all – they made a narrative.  A statement about how technology should interface with a life.

I’m not saying this to be mean, or get my kicks, or to engage in psychic vampirism.  Competing with these fucking people must be a genuinely harrowing state of affairs.

There’s a great quote from Hockey great Wayne Gretzky where he said that you should skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is. Apple’s competitors should take note because while they’re busy trying to catch up to where Apple’s product roadmap is today, Apple’s already off skating to where the puck is going to be.


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