Technology and Design: Copy-Cats and Inventors

Sorry for our brief hiatus, but our schedules have been a little crazy of late. We have heard your feedback loud and clear! We are replacing the daily “What to Read” series with weekly top-10 “Best of the Week” posts, and we will strive to post original analysis daily, beginning with this brilliant post from Jessica Butler! — AWO

I have to preface this post by saying that I am an avid Apple fan, I have a Mac laptop and an iPod Touch (and I wish I had an iPhone), and I plan to never buy a PC-related item of technology again, unless under very special circumstances. That said, I think one very interesting topic of conversation these days is the differences between Apple and PC products and how they are designed. Of course this discussion will be through my own bias.  

I would argue that Apple is influencing almost all computer, phone, and mp3/video player product designs out there (and probably other areas as well) and is at the forefront of what many call disruptive innovation. Apple has turned the design world upside-down by simply creating a unique and simple product that is geared towards many users. I would challenge anyone to disagree with me: Companies like Dell, Sony, and others are making laptops that are smoother, sleeker, and simpler, much like the Macbook designs; almost every phone company has made an imitation of the iPhone; and pretty much everyone wants a cut of the intensely successful iPod profits. The question that I have in this mêlée of design trendiness is, why would companies that have been successful for years, or decades, want make the move into copying a direct competitor while it seems that their client base is satisfied with the product they have been receiving?

Part of this answer will be related to a business-economical standpoint which I will neglect here as it is not my forté. The part I do want to address is simply the aesthetic. The PC-users I have talked to are generally very satisfied with their computers and do not wish to make any significant change in their machines. Most of them like that they can use certain programs on Windows-based computers or that they are more easily customizable, both in hardware and software (generally speaking). They don’t care too much about what their computers look like, only that they are pretty much ‘okay’ with the service that it provides them.

Now, Microsoft and PC computer companies are making attempts to copy Apple’s operating system and design aesthetics, but I really wonder why? Windows Vista was a terribly botched OS that seemed to be trying to one-up Mac’s Leopard OS and only gave the company a bad rap. Some have argued that a few of Microsoft’s ideas, such as the new search engine Bing, have been improvements on some of its predecessors, but that is still only at best copying an original idea and building upon it. Computer companies are making computers that increasingly lean toward the minimalist design aesthetics of the Mac computers and laptops, and Microsoft might be copying ideas of Google and Apple, but do their clients really care? I would guess that they don’t. I think that their time would be better spent trying to come up with something unique and original rather than just trying to copy the competition. In doing so, they end up unsuccessful in their endeavors and losing customers. Clayton M. Christensen, the expert on disruptive technologies, recommends that existing firms watch for these innovations, invest in small firms that might adopt these innovations, and continue to push technological demands in their core market so that performance stays above what disruptive technologies can achieve. It seems that the technological giants of old are getting lazy.

Now, while Google is planning its own operating system directly in competition with Windows, it is obvious that Microsoft will have to be on their best game and decide what it is that they really want to do: Originate or Duplicate.