Is there nothing new under the sun? That’s an easy question to ask and it comes with a couple of easy answers. No. And, Yes. That’s because the giants of technology copy one another at every turn. Here’s why such copycat-ism is both good and bad.
One can argue that there isn’t much new under the sun and that everything is a remix. Maybe so. Copying is a way of life and without it not much moves forward. The iPhone? Just a phone with a big screen and some apps. The Mac? Just a personal computer with a graphic user interface. Everything that seems unique and new is a variation of a previous theme.
Onward Tech Soldiers!
Look at how many computer makers there were back when Apple was churning out the Apple II. What is a Microsoft Surface but a thinly disguised notebook with a touchscreen; kind of a hybrid between iPad and netbook. Everyone copies. Samsung has a new Galaxy S8 with an edge-to-edge screen and the iPhone 8 will get one later this year.
Microsoft has had some success in recent years with the Surface line of Windows-powered PCs. Success? The television commercials that compare a touchscreen Surface with an iPad or a Mac might tell you Microsoft is doing well and the Mac is doing poorly. The commercials themselves are compelling. The math tells a different story. Surface sales are down and disappointing while Mac sales are at an all time high. Again.
What happened? Samsung, just to mention a few other PC makers.
On the surface (pun not intended), Microsoft’s Surface presents a compelling case. It’s a Windows-based PC, it’s a notebook with a detachable keyboard, it has a tablet-like touchscreen, so it’s something of a tablet. The reality is a bit different. It’s not a good tablet because it’s heavy and the touch interface is cumbersome at best. As a notebook, it’s also cumbersome because the keyboard is detachable.
But the television commercials make it look great.
Microsoft’s partners in crime– the rest of the PC manufacturing world that, well, makes PCs that run Windows– cannot be happy about Microsoft making its own hardware, so competition among PC makers has turned up while overall sales of PCs have gone down. Except for the aforementioned Mac. Just as Microsoft and Google and Apple and Samsung and everyone else in the tech industry copies one another here and there, Microsoft’s own partners are not only copying the best of the Surface line, they’re beating it with more features and lower prices.
Surface sales were down last quarter when they should have gone up. Apple’s Mac sales were up when everyone expected them to go down. Maybe Microsoft just didn’t copy what was important. You know, like, uh, well, usability. Samsung’s new Galaxy Book 12 (even copied Microsoft’s Book name which had to be copied from the MacBook which came from the iBook) has a pen and a keyboard and is priced lower than a comparable model from Microsoft.
All this copying can make one a bit dizzy and that might explain why Apple rolls its own ecosystem of stores, Genius bars, macOS and iOS, and makes everything work better together than the competition. Sure, all smartphones look like iPhones and all the new notebooks look like MacBooks or MacBook Pros, but only Apple sells more each year than their long list of copycat competitors.