Copying Apple

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It’s like an itch that you just can’t scratch.

Something has been bothering me, lately. It’s not overt. It’s not obvious. But… it’s there. Some will make the argument that Apple is loosing a little bit of its luster. That while the company in a post-Steve Jobs world is still churning out cutting-edge consumer electronics and digital services, that the market for that may be hitting a plateau (this is why their last quarter was seen as a disappointment to Wall Street when – in reality – it was one of the best quarters that any company has ever had). While I am an Apple consumer (and a fairly recent one), I’m hopeful that you won’t misconstrued this blog post as someone who is a biased and loyal customer trying to defend a brand (Apple Fanboi!). What makes Apple such a fascinating brand, from my perspective, is how the brand is managed. This isn’t just the advertising that we see in market, but the overall experience it delivers. And, lately, I find it fascinating that other brands are simply copying their older positioning, while the media is eating it up and selling it back to its audience as revolutionary or signs of a comeback for these other companies.

Examples of this are…

  • The Microsoft store. My first computer was a PC. I switched to a Mac only two years ago. I have no issue or bone to pick with Microsoft. When I first came across a Microsoft store, I literally, looked at my watch to see if it was April Fool’s Day. I thought that the Apple people had jokingly replaced the white, glowing apple sign with the Windows logo. From the wood paneling and white walls to the merchandising and how the staff is dressed, it was clear to me that Microsoft wanted to feel like Apple. Kudos for Microsoft… they nailed it. Their stores do look and feel like an Apple store.
  • The launch of BlackBerry 10. I had the original BlackBerry. I had both the pager version and the black and white palm version that only had email on it. I was a BlackBerry advocate up until I switched to an iPhone two years ago. Had BlackBerry progressed with the times, I would probably still be a BlackBerry user. I was excited (very excited) about their launch of BlackBerry 10 the other day. What shocked me was how much the event looked and felt like an Apple event. It was in the details too. From the design of the slides to the flow of the show. It even ended with the musical guest surprise. Their c-level executives tried to pull off the whole "I’m not wearing a tie, so I am very casual," kind of vibe. The pass-offs and high-fives between speakers coupled with their on-stage banter. It was all pulled from Apple. Like a script.
  • Most smartphones that aren’t iPhones. I love Android. I have no opinion on Windows Mobile. The truth is that it’s hard to look at any non-iPhone device and not think that it’s an iPhone. While the lawsuits are being settled, the average consumer (you and I) can tell that every other smartphone didn’t blaze its own trail. It took what Apple had done and rendered their own version of it. Some better. Some worse. But, at quick glance, it’s hard not to think that they’re all just ripping off iPhone.

Copying isn’t a bad strategy.

Companies have built war chests of money by taking an idea, copying it and putting their own little spin on it. One could argue that every great song of today is simply a rip-off of some other song that came before it. The challenge is for a brand to use the muse and build upon it. I used the examples above because they act as these strange, unconscience, triggers that repel me, rather than pull me in. It’s like having deja-vu (but not in a good way). I’ve seen this all before… but this is a weak copy instead of something that is new, interesting and captivating. It seems strained and inauthentic.

What’s the lesson?

The devil is in the details. Sometimes the copying is blatantly obvious, but more often than not, it’s these little subtle things. You may think that the consumer is not aware of them. You may think that they are innocuous. You would be wrong. People have amazing perception skills. Simple body language tricks can manipulate even the smartest of human beings. We’re sensitive people. With sensitive awareness skills. So, as you’re trying to be innovative, but all you’re really doing is trying to imitate those who truly are, be aware and cautious of these decisions. In the end, it’s not really Apple and what they have done, it’s all about you and how you created influence and loyalty for the brands that you serve. I believe that there is a higher calling when it comes to marketing and influence. I also believe that many brands are squandering this amazing moment in time because it’s easier to just assume the position of those we admire than to create our own, unique paths to individualism.

That just seems more exciting, doesn’t it?


  1. Let’s also not forget that Apple also copied other companies in the past (Xerox notably). As somebody famous said: Creation require influence. It is kind of ironic to now see Apple see suffer from the same plague (copy) they benefited from.

  2. “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” – T.S. Eliot

  3. Take existing technology, package it nicely and spend lots on marketing to give the impression of how you’re at the forefront of innovation… the iPhone is so pretty though

  4. As a designer. I appreciate the gestalt of a (tech) product. From the website to the packaging. Lets face it. Apple for a long time as done everything close to perfect. From fonts to product photography. The thing about stealing is very true. But keep in mind they are all after the same demographic and target audience. I agree with your post. The logo for Microsoft is close to Myriad (mac). The shape of the android is close to an iphone… but are you going to design a circle or Square phone… probably not.

  5. I think there’s sorta two things that come to mind: Craft and Concept.
    You talk to a film maker who makes a Western and nobody says “you know, they’ve made westerns before, you’re just copying them”… The film maker doesn’t care about that, what he or she cares about is the craft of the film, and how it stacks up with other films of “the Western tradition.”
    When we talk concept.. if an artist is about concept, and the concepts is derivative.. well that’s an issue.
    The thing is.. as a culture, we tend to value concept over craft… So I think in this sense you look at companies copying Apple and you’re like “ok, but remind me again what’s special about what your doing?”
    It seemed that Apple had a vision.. was able to understand what you wanted, perhaps before you understood you wanted it, and provide it. Apple had a kind of intuition..
    Are companies copying Apple by having a unique vision or by valuing what intuition has to offer, or are they just making products that look and feel like Apple products?
    I think when you look at something like the industrial design of an Apple product.. it shows an attention to detail.. and that sends you a cue, perhaps unconsciously.. that this is a company that’s paying attention to details and not simply cutting corners to compete at the bottom of the market.
    I say this and I’ve been a Mac user since the early 90s and I’ve never bought a computer that wasn’t a Mac, and now I’m thinking that my next computer will more then likely not be a Mac.
    I’m “the pro user” type, not the consumer type… and Apple has been slipping when it comes to the pro user types for a while now… If you look at the Mac Pro line of computers… what happened with Final Cut.. Music Production professionals are starting to talk disparagingly about Logic… and sometimes you want what you want, not what Apple tells you should want.
    For a while Apple looked like they might even take some of the high end 3D market, but because of the way they controlled drivers, high end 3D cards never came to the Mac. If you have a Mac Pro and look for graphics cards for it, you find that all the options are ridiculously over priced and under performing..
    Apple nearly owned the professional video market.. Avid nearly going out of business, Adobe not yet a serious contender.. and then Apple dropped the ball.. and the pro’s split.
    This, and what kind of a vision does Apple have for us now? It feels like the intuition and vision left with Steve. I’m sure Apple will continue to build quality products with wonderful industrial design, solid user experience, and maintain great customer service

  6. I think apple took a page from Microsoft in marketing windows. When windows started to take off wall st payed attention and vaulted them to a higher plateau will all the free press. I think apple is at that crossword that Microsoft once was and don’t believe they will be able to keep their momentum…by no means is that brand finished but it will be difficult because of the cheap knockoffs and free software ( android ).
    Steve jobs was a visionary that captured people’s imagination. Tim cook is an operations guy, lets face it he doesn’t have the charisma as Steve did. The brand will lose its lustre with Tim cook, the brand was synonymous with Steve jobs period.
    Having said all of this apple continues to produce quality software although in the last couple of years I’ve been experiencing hardware problems which is disappointing but nevertheless still enjoy their products.
    Their brand has faded because of the bad press, Tim cook will have to start ‘obeying’ wall st or else feel the burden of negative press, if he doesn’t he will suffer the same fate of Steve ballmar…no growth no innovation instead will have to go outside the org to find something novel.
    Lastly what’s amazing is how hard a brand can fall…

  7. Many companies copied but what is amazing about Samsung is how it used its strengths (manufacturing, engineering) to find gaps in Apple strategy to become a market leader in smartphone.

  8. Apple needs to play by the ‘wall street’ rules, otherwise the brand will diminish in my opinion. This is a classic case and actually similar fate happened to microsoft many years ago, when their stock went up so did their brand recognition.
    I guess as a public company your brands success is also attributable to how well you can continue to sustain your growth in order to keep wall street happy and as in the case of apple unfortunately they can’t continue hitting those large numbers so they are being dismantled limb by limb.
    The CEO commented that he isn’t interested in market share but I think that is a fatal mistake. Their are too many copycats and apple can’t stop them all. Its becoming easier for anyone to enter the market just look at lenovo, they have a huge market share with respect to smart phones in china and really who are they?
    Apple is not dead, after all they have a lot of cash on hand to carry themselves through just about anything but at the end of the day you cannot always be at the top.
    P.S. I would wager that if samsung was listed on nasdaq, their brand recognition would go through the roof.

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