Is Everyone Ripping Off Apple’s Designs? [Opinion]

Copycat   Is Everyone Ripping Off Apples Designs? [Opinion]Apple’s products all have a certain look to them. Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive wouldn’t have it any other way. The question is whether everyone is ripping off Apple’s designs at this point in time – and in the most glaring of fashions. It’s a question that is being asked in protracted legal battles around the world, and that’s no exaggeration.

Apple is the absolute master of obtaining patents over the most vague features of its products – even the designs, whether they be very obvious practical sensibilities or something that is present more for visual appeal. I guess the ultimate blame for this lies with the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office), but Apple certainly hasn’t helped the situation. Which is why I’m happy to rip on them over this issue.

Apple Designs

Apple Design   Is Everyone Ripping Off Apples Designs? [Opinion]

Apple’s design sensibility is fantastic. Whether you love or hate the company and its legion of fanboys, few people could reject that assertion. This design sensibility is one way in which Apple stands out from the crowd; a crowd which contains a multitude of other tech manufacturers all releasing devices which, though they do what is expected of them, don’t look anything special.

All of Apple’s main line of products follow the principles of industrial design, which seeks to make consumer products look iconic as well as be functional. And that’s exactly what Apple’s products do. Most of that has been created since the Second Coming of Steve Jobs – the iPod, iPhone, iPad, iMac – are iconic and would even look at home in museums.

Copycat Syndrome

iPhone Copycats   Is Everyone Ripping Off Apples Designs? [Opinion]

Other companies have witnessed this changing of strategy and how it has helped Apple grow from an also-ran into the biggest company in the world (for the time being). And there is no doubt that many are following Apple’s lead. Apple releases a product, and then a handful of companies release similar products, in terms of functionality, features, and design.

However, we shouldn’t forget that Apple didn’t invent personal media players or tablet computers, instead the company weeded out the flaws in existing products and brought them into the mainstream. So Apple is just as guilty of copycat syndrome as any other company, it’s just that it spends time getting the design and functionality of the devices absolutely correct before launch, often spending years doing so.

Apple Undesigns

Apple Undesign   Is Everyone Ripping Off Apples Designs? [Opinion]

With that in mind there is a case for arguing that Apple doesn’t design its products, it undesigns them. Yes, that’s a made-up word. At least according to my spell checker. But it seems a fitting way in which to describe how Apple goes from concept to finished product.

Steve Jobs was, by all accounts, a hard man to work for. And one of the reasons for this was his desire to make everything just work, and in as simple a fashion as possible. Why have 10 buttons when you can have a scroll wheel? Why have endless menus when you can simplify the choices down to just the bare essentials? This means that Apple starts with an over-fussy design and then undesigns it. Essentially removing all the extraneous crap in order to leave only what is necessary.

It’s a concept that Thomas Baekdal explores in a brilliant article comparing the iPad with the Samsung Galaxy Tab. He argues that Apple pared the design down to its core essentials, meaning Samsung, and any other tablet manufacturer, has to add extra, non-essential flairs in order to differentiate their product and avoid infringing on Apple’s design patent. Which is, quite frankly, ludicrous.

All Consumer Electronics Look The Same

Toasters   Is Everyone Ripping Off Apples Designs? [Opinion]

Looking at the bigger picture – cameras all look very similar. As do wristwatches. Washing machines. Toasters (see above). Name a product, whether practical or otherwise, and there are dozens of examples from dozens of companies, all of which look almost identical. Why? Because design always comes second to functionality.

Cameras need to be held facing forward with some kind of view finder at the back, and be light and portable. Wristwatches need to fit comfortably on the wrist and have an easy to read clock-face. Washing machines need to have a drum with holes in and have trays for powder and liquid within easy reach. Toasters need to have bread-shaped spaces and some kind of control mechanism at the side.

Functionality inspires design.

In The End, Does It Matter?

Question Mark Sign   Is Everyone Ripping Off Apples Designs? [Opinion]

When all is said and done, does it actually matter? Surely it should come down to a lot more than how a product looks. I’m sure the most-dedicated Apple fanboys will tear me to pieces for saying so, but if I was Apple I’d look at any hint of copying as nothing more than a compliment to the company and the team who created the product in question.

The endless legal battles involving patents often awarded before smartphones and tablets were even imagined suggests a lack of self-belief on the part of Apple. It clearly isn’t confident enough in its products to believe they will outsell the competition no matter how much they may look similar to Apple’s originals. Which, often times, aren’t even all that original.

As always feel free to comment, whether you agree or disagree with any of the above. I do love a good argument…

Image Credits: icanteachyouhowtodoit, JMacPherson, meddygarnet, Heungsub Lee, SambaClub, Colin_K

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21 Comments -

0 votes

qox

“We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas”
Steve Jobs (1996).

Well said, Steve.

0 votes

Dave Parrack

What goes around comes around perhaps?

0 votes

Lucienpguay

Well stated: Form always follows function.  In the real world, if the devices do similar functions, they will have similar forms. (Seen any sports cars with 8 wheels recently?)
However, give Apple credit for being the marketing master.  By using patents, an endless pool of cash and the courts, Apple is working to maintain, even increase, market share by keeping the competitors products off the shelves. 
Apple is the poster child for everything that’s wrong with the current patent system.

0 votes

Dave Parrack

I missed mentioning cars, but that’s probably the most obvious example. Most cars are very hard to differentiate from each other.

Apple does deserve credit, of course. The iPad is a prime example. But condemning others for “copying” seems churlish.

“Apple is the poster child for everything that’s wrong with the current patent system.” Absolutely.

0 votes

mvario

 and try to imagine the sorry state motorized transportation would be in today if automobile companies from the beginning were as litigious as todays tech companies, and if they had to operate in an environment more concerned with “intellectual property” than with improvement and innovation. Patent and copyright in the US was supposed to ultimately be about the public good, and the evidence is that for the most part they aren’t.

0 votes

Dave Parrack

 I agree, the U.S. patent system is broken beyond belief. I wonder if it can be fixed at this point though. A lot of it is just pure greed on the part of companies, and Apple is one of the worst offenders on that score.

0 votes

qox

 They didnt invent rectangular touchscreen tablet either. Sure they greatly improved it and deserve credit, but so are a lot of others …

0 votes

Dave Parrack

 Nope, you’re right, they didn’t. But the iPad is very different in how it operates than previous attempts. If it wasn’t it would have shared the same fate as Microsoft’s Tablet PC range.

0 votes

qox

Damnit.
And did they made all the technology advances (hardware, software) by themself 10 years ago ? Answer is no and that’s my point.

0 votes

Clint

The human race’s advantage in science and technology evolved because we didn’t all have to “reinvent the wheel” all the time, but take a already good idea and reproduce, improve expand etc. 
While direct copying for pure profit is frowned upon, the idea of a good idea being reproduced cheaper and accessible to more people,  ideas adding to that and lessons learned improves the human race. 

Corporate secrets and patents do not improve the human race.  They help the profits of that company. 

I am very happy that the knowledge of making bread and the distribution of water and electricity and not solely owned by an individual company. 

0 votes

Dave Parrack

 Very good points, Clint. Imagine if patents had been granted for those basic but very necessary ‘products’.

0 votes

Jvfran

“it spends time getting the design and functionality of the devices absolutely correct before launch, often spending years doing so.”

It is this point that needs to be addressed. The other companies do not spend this amount of time. So how does apple get its money back on this large investment. It we as consumers want and admire such devices as apple makes then we need to recognize that there is a tremendous investment involved which the other companies are not making. I think it is understandable for apple to be protective of their designs and not want others to come allows and sell the same product without having to make a similar investment. How would apple compete with them. They

0 votes

Dave Parrack

 That’s an interesting point, Jvfran. I would counter by saying that Apple is at a point where it will shift units of whatever product it releases, regardless of whether other companies then produce similar products. It’s not as though Apple is suffering with these copycats… it’s the richest tech company in the world.

0 votes

Ger Sart

You know, there was a time when some cameras didn’t have a viewfinder on the back. They had a viewfinder on top. I wonder about the current concept of cameras and look forward to a company that breaks that ‘tradition’ that is limiting how people are using them today. (at arms length versus held you your eye or by your belt, facing forward with you looking down onto the viewscreen)

0 votes

Dave Parrack

 It’s difficult to change an idea that is ingrained into the public psyche. But Apple should be applauded for taking gambles in that regard.

I would assume viewfinders on cameras was a technical necessity though. Early models were probably limited by what was achievable at the time. I speak as a layman though.

0 votes

Dmitry Kruvand

Everyone copies everyone, period. The cultivation of ideas is in part due to sharing of ideas. Apple needs to get over it. If not, they will come to deal with the same scrutiny that Microsoft had to deal with. 

0 votes

Dave Parrack

 I think that’s inevitable. Apple is no longer the little guy complaining from the sidelines, and that means everything they do is up for scrutiny.

0 votes

Dave Parrack

 Wow, nice find. The iPod and T3 pocket radio are amazingly similar.

0 votes

Tumbleweed912001

Long the same thought lines, China has just reproduced the Ford F150 truck down to the last bolt – all except the Ford logo.  That is true copy write infringement.  I don’t imagine the people at Ford are happy about this. Evidently China has no creative ability of their own and has no problem stealing an anyone’s ideas.

0 votes

Dave Parrack

That is clear copyright infringement, and not what I’m defending here. I cannot agree with your other comment though. In this case, sure, but as a nation of people China is full of creativity and able to produce its own ideas.