The answer to this somewhat rhetorical question is simple and straightforward. Competitors copy Apple’s designs because it’s easy to do. Copying someone else’s design does not require an expensive R&D department. Copying Apple’s designs doesn’t require much engineering excellence, and even less ethics for the intellectual property deprived. Despite Apple’s modest marketshare in every product category, the rest of the technology world’s products have an enormous similarity to what Apple designs.
Apple may be the only major technology company that combines and esthetic design sense with serious engineering chops with a a fetish for manufacturing excellence. Look at Apple’s major product line. Mac, iPhone, iPad. Now, look around at various and sundry competitors in each product segment. What do you see?
The trend in PC notebooks today is toward tapered, wedge-shaped aluminum cases that bear a remarkable resemblance to Mac notebooks of yesteryear. Apple’s iPad redefined and refined how a tablet computer should be designed and used. What do most tablet devices look like today? iPads. The company runs the risk of the iPad brand becoming like cellophane, bubble wrap, jacuzzi, crock-pot, ChapStick, Kleenex, Popsicle, Scotch tape, Sharpie, velcro, or Band-Aids.
All iPads are tablets. Not all tablets are iPads, but that’s the term people use.
What about the iPhone?
What did so-called smartphones look like before the iPhone? They were clumsy, cumbersome, horrifically complex devices with plastic keyboards, tiny screens, and arcane controls. Apple’s iPhone showed the world a better way, quickly copied by Google’s copycat engineering team in the Android division and today almost every smartphone looks and works much like the original iPhone.
Competitors copy Apple’s designs because Apple is the trend setter for design and usage. This isn’t to say that Apple is on the bleeding or leading edge of what is commonly referred to as incremental innovation– the gradual improvements to a product. Apple sets the stage and direction, and other tech companies follow with their own level of innovations, usually limited to something obvious like screen size, or gimmicks like multiple CPU cores which have little bearing on performance but make for great advertising and marketing components or comparisons.
Having been an Apple customer and inveterate and certified Apple watcher for a few decades, I’ve recently adopted a couple of distinct fears.
The first is obvious. Steve Jobs had an esthetic design and usability sense unusual for a CEO, and his influence was felt strongly in Apple’s products; Mac, Apple Stores, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. You don’t see that same simple and obvious esthetic in Apple Watch, so I fear that Apple may have lost the design edge it had when Jobs was running the company.
The second item on my concern list may be less obvious but is becoming more clear as competitors use Apple as their own less expensive Research & Development arm. In other words, they out do what Apple does. Apple no longer has the best smartphone screens, the best smartphone camera, or the best of the features we users want, with battery lif, being a good example, but even features like extensions in iOS came years after being available on Android.
Technology competitors copy Apple because it’s easy to do and sometimes the copying is painfully blatant to the point of being illegal. Look at Chinese knock-off manufacturers Xioami and Huawei. All that’s missing from some of their devices is the Apple logo and iOS. That says much about some Chinese manufacturers who dismiss the obvious similarities as ‘that’s the natural direction design goes.’ If so, why didn’t they come up with the design first? Because Apple sets the design direction with an abnormal sense of esthetic and usability design that is easily copied by those companies who are design, engineering, and intellectually challenged.