Get ready for the "iPhone killers"

The iPhone's popularity will prompt copycat designs.

Get ready for the onslaught of "iPhone killers".

This isn't necessarily a reflection of whether the iPhone really is a game-changer or an outstandingly good phone. (And I should say up front that in its current iteration I'm ambivalent about the iPhone, for my uses a BlackBerry is better.)

The iPhone killers are coming simply because the iPhone is a "hit" product, and these days the wireless industry is driven by "hits." The Motorola Razr was the first bonafide hit, achieving sales of 2 million units in the UK alone which had been their global projection in the first year. Motorola has capitalized on the success with a variety of spin-off models, but it also easy to find competitors that have mimicked the look of the Razr in terms of the form factor, use of materials, and use of lighting. It has changed the aesthetic of cell phones, and achieved what designers dream of - setting the aesthetic pace in an industry and turning every other company into a follower.

The iPhone too will have this effect. While there will be outright copycats (such as the Meizu M8 , which for the time being lacks actual telephony), and others that unfairly get called copycats (such as the LG Prada phone , which was obviously in development at the same time as the iPhone), the more significant long term shift will be in the general aesthetic trend. Just as the iPod has influenced the majority of mp3 players in terms of minimalism and, yes, whiteness, none of them have yet cracked the code that has kept the iPod on top. Many of them have better specs than the iPod on an objective level, and may get reviewed as well or better, but they are still...missing something.

Likewise the iPhone copycats will miss the point, because the product by itself is only a piece of the puzzle. Undoubtedly from a spec level many of the competitors will outdo the iPhone - higher resolution camera, more memory, better speaker, GPS, etc. And they may well get reviewed as being "better" than the iPhone. Like the iPod, the iPhone succeeds because it is designed as a system - hardware, UI, OS, accessories, packaging, Apple Stores, advertising - it all works together. It is this seamless system approach that Apple does so well, and makes look so easy, but in fact it is extremely difficult to pull off. Everyone gets distracted by the shiny hardware and UI, but as much as anything its the ethos underlying the system that drives an unwavering attention to detail that makes it happen again and again.

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Tech Culture
About the author

    Adam Richardson is the director of product strategy at frog design, where he guides strategy engagements for frog's international roster of clients, envisioning and creating new products, consumer electronics, and digital experiences. Adam combines a background in industrial design, interaction design, and sociology, and spends most of his time on convergent designs that combine hardware, software, service, brand, and retail. He writes and speaks extensively on design, business, culture, and technology, and runs his own Richardsona blog.

     

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