Every so often an article appears on MDN which compares iPhone to pre-iPhone Android phones. In essence, Android smartphones before iPhone were stupidly ugly. Did I mention ugly? And stupid?
After iPhone debuted Android became the de facto smartphone copycat and Google had to make the platform free to cellphone makers to become competitive. What does it say that a product needs to be free to compete?
Alright, I understand that copying is common in technology. That explains why so many tech firms patent and copyright their designs, keep a portfolio of patents, and defend their intellectual property.
What Apple launched with iPhone in 2007 was nothing new. Handheld smartphones with applications had been around for years. Touchscreens were nothing new. What Apple managed to do with the original iPhone was to create that perfect blend and balance that customers immediately wanted to use.
What did Google’s Android team do? They started over after iPhone launched. Look at this image from AI a few years ago.
It is hard to image a more blatant copy of a mostly original design. Yet, here we are 11 years later and what do you see in every major smartphone maker?
Smartphones look the same. Flat slabs of glass, rounded corners, mostly display on the front with ever-shrinking bezels. Inside? They’re much the same as the original iPhone. Apps. Both platforms have improved each year and today’s smartphones amount to a personal computer that fits in a pocket.
All that copying is a good thing.
Wait! What? Good? How?
Well, it isn’t as if Apple has been hurt by copycats. Apple is the richest and most valuable company on planet earth and as much as Samsung wants to be loved by the masses– and it makes very good premium products– it’s obvious the company does not have what Apple has. Yet, Samsung has helped Apple push the envelope, raise the bar, and make the smartphone revolution and the post-PC era and the mobile device era something that may impact humanity for many decades to come.
iPhone clone makers have helped Apple remain competitive by building similar products with lower price tags. Where would iPhone be without Google’s Android or Samsung’s Galaxy line? What if Apple’s patents were sufficient to prevent copycats from imitating the iPhone’s iconic design?
Would iOS have ruled the world? In a way, it does anyway, despite hundreds of competitors which blatantly copy whatever they can, and provide some innovations on their own– some of which Apple does and will implement in future iPhones.
iPhone clone makers are willful in their designs. That’s good for smartphone customers. It’s good for Apple.