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2011: The Year Everyone Copied Apple

Bare minimalism. It is at the heart of Apple’s design philosophy. A school of thought based around stripping away non-essentials. It produces beautiful, industrial products which share a common vision and – guess what? – not everyone likes it.

Intel hopes Ultrabooks will take a 40 per cent PC market share within 18 months. So if successful 40 per cent of PCs will look like 100 per cent of Macs. Everywhere we look we will see brushed aluminium, black chicklet keyboards and over-sized trackpads. When people aren’t using their Mac-a-likes they’ll be using iPad and iPhone clones. It sounds like an awfully dull world.
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Moreover from a business perspective it sounds like suicide. Hopes of establishing brand loyalty would disappear with this me-too approach. How long before Lenovo’s distinctive black ThinkPads all look like the new U300s (above) and therefore just another in the endless line of MacBook knock-offs?

In the automotive industry Aston Martins may look great, but it would be laughable if Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, Ford, Renault, BMW and the rest decided to give up on their own styling and release clones. This is because car brands have what most technology hardware manufacturers lack: their own style. Tech companies have never learnt this lesson and now we have one Aston Martin and a limitless number of Fords trying to be Aston Martins. It needs to stop. If it takes Apple lawsuits, then sadly it takes Apple lawsuits.
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Of course there is a huge gap between this idealism and reality. Increasingly the future is mobile and Apple and RIM maintain vice-like grips over their platforms. For others Google is trying to crack down on third party skins and finally admits it bought Motorola to make hardware, while even Microsoft has decided to operate strict Windows Phone design and power requirements (see above). Tired of watching its cutting edge technology wasted in bland boxes Intel has now gone down a similar route through Ultrabooks’ golden handcuffs.

The message is clear: after years of insipid design hardware partners aren’t trusted anymore. Competent uniformity is seen as preferable to incompetent banality. Their last chance may well have gone. For some it has proved too much.

There is irony to all this. In 1997 Apple launched the advertising slogan Think Different. It did. It just didn’t expect 24 years later everyone else to join it in thinking the same…

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