Imitation Replaces Innovation: A Mobile Industry Defined by Copycats

by Matt Klassen on January 22, 2015

Earlier this month Xiaomi, the company dubbed “China’s Apple,” unveiled its latest smartphones, two larger phablet devices designed to directly compete with Apple’s latest iPhone 6 Plus. Foregoing any marketing subtleties, Xiaomi has made no secret out of the fact that its latest products are Apple killers, noting that each is lighter, thinner, and less expensive than Apple’s phablet offering, adding fuel to the growing criticism that Xiaomi is little more than a Apple copycat, an imitator that is garnering market attention because it is giving the market more of what it really wants (Apple-like products), at a cheaper price.

In fact, it was such imitation that got Android its start several years ago, with Google and its Android partners mirroring the Apple experience as closely as legally possible, with Samsung going on to grow an Android empire on the backs of phones that looked an awful lot like their Apple rivals. Now with Samsung fading from view, Xiaomi may be the next company to take a shot at the top of the mobile kingdom by copying the perennial contender.

But before you feel sorry for Apple, decrying the fact that the only response its rivals have to the Cupertino tech giant is to imitate its success rather than innovate and create their own, Apple is doing its fair share of mimicking as well, with rumours that the company is creating a stylus to accompany its next iPad Pro series, a shameless copycat of Samsung that Apple is hoping will help boost the iPad’s productivity credentials and make it more appealing to the enterprise sector.

To copy or not to copy, that is the question, but truthfully it doesn’t seem like the tech industry is wrestling overly hard with this conundrum as it seems that most firms are more than willing to embrace the former rather than the latter, as imitation is always far easier on the pocket book than creativity, innovation, and unique development ever could be. It takes money to create something new, money that most companies seem unwilling to spend.

Heck, even Apple, the firm at the centre of this growing copycat trend in the mobile market, has done little in the way of true innovation since it unveiled the first iPhone, with every successive product or upgrade either building on what they did before, or copying what their rivals have already done. It’s content to generate income off its one time innovation, happier to add money to its gigantic Scrooge-like money bin rather than spend to create something innovative.

But back to Xiaomi for a moment, a company that has taken the mobile world by storm this last year. With a strategy so firmly rooted in doing what its competitors are doing, but better and cheaper, can the company called “little rice” have any lasting presence? As one looks a Samsung, currently the world’s largest smartphone maker, I think we can get a sense of Xiaomi’s next several years, as the company will undoubtedly achieve global success through its low cost, feature rich smartphone approach, but like its Korean counterpart, it likely won’t be able to maintain its success for long before another start-up comes along that is able to mimic Apple just a little more effectively.

The ironic thing in all this, though, is just how vocal these tech companies are about others mimicking their own products, as even Xiaomi has gone on record this week claiming that “others copy our best ideas,” a humorous indictment given that Xiaomi’s products look like Apple, operate like Apple, but yet sport the Xiaomi brand. But again, even as companies clamour to beat Apple at its own game the Cupertino company has found most of its own new ideas of late in its competitors products, evidenced no more so than the rumours that Apple will ignore the wishes of Steve Jobs and embrace the stylus, simply because that’s what others are doing. They do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all, not to mention quite illegal as well.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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