From the very early days Apple generated a reputation for innovation. Whether it was Steve Wozniak’s brilliant engineering or Jonathan Ive’s timeless designs, Apple is blatantly copied more than any other gadget company.
Apple may not have invented every standard product design in computers, but the company has a knack for winnowing away the cruft and manufacturing products that seem to capture the public’s imagination and demand to be copied by the competition.
Remember the original Apple II? Apple popularized slots for add-on devices and color displays, both copied by IBM and PC clone makers.
Remember DOS? Microsoft’s originally purchased operating system paled in comparison to the original Mac OS. It took Bill Gates’ company years to pull it off, but copy they did.
Apple often seems to be the research and development arm of competing gadget makers.
Remember the first Mac Powerbook models from the early 1990s? It didn’t take long for Apple’s reference design to inspire the engineering photo copiers of every PC maker.
Apple didn’t invent the portable media device, but their eclectic design won the hearts of a few hundred million customers like no other.
What did smart phones look like before the iPhone? Even Google’s Android device designs mimicked Palm and Treo and BlackBerry devices before the iPhone came along.
Samsung has been blatant about copying Apple’s iconic iPhone and iPad designs, hence the lawsuits. Clearly, Samsung’s executives decided it was better to copy than be original. And copy they did; everything from look and feel to app icons. Blatantly and shamelessly.
Apple avoided the crazy world of netbooks and, instead, churned out the MacBook Air model at an affordable price. That became the reference design and inspiration for Intel’s new fangled ultra books; most of which look like a MacBook Air.
To be fair, Apple does a bit of copying, too. After all, everything is a remix, right?
Why is it that Apple’s product designs are shamelessly copied by major competitors?
An answer is more complicated than this, but, in a word, it’s taste. Apple, as a company, and especially under Steve Jobs’ rule, defined tasteful, elegant, usable products in a way no other technology company has.
It isn’t just hardware design, either. It’s the whole widget. Hardware. Software. Marketing. Apple has an inherent knack for developing just what the doctor ordered. No more. No less. And sufficient to capture the heart and soul of a growing customer base.
While copying Apple isn’t a new phenomenon, it has grown to crazy proportions in recent years (hence, the lawsuits). Why? Apple’s engineers, designers, and executives toiled in near obscurity until the iPod. That single, seminal product unleashed a wave of innovation and ecosystem that competitors still have yet to catch up to.
From the iPod and iTunes came the iTunes Store. Then Windows versions. Then movies and TV shows. Then the iPhone and iPod touch, the App Store, and the iPad.
While competitors struggle to copy Apple’s best, and carve a niche for their own knockoffs, they fail to copy the very best about Apple. The company’s focus, is, and hopefully, will always be– on the product and the user experience.
The end result of Apple’s innovative product designs and integrated ecosystem begets high product margins and obscene profits, none of which have been copied by any competitor.
Why do competitors copy Apple? Because they can. And they need to.