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Phones

Don't copy, make a fork

Innovation, freshness and a user-focused strategy will always produce better products than just copying the guy next to you

Could everyone please stop making touchscreen phones? Recently I reviewed the Samsung F490, an iPhone lookalike that falls short when it comes to the touchscreen and software interface. It's not a bad phone, but it's annoying that manufacturers are all rushing to catch up with Apple.

Rushing is not the answer. Apple made a massive impact with the iPhone because instead of looking at the competition and saying "Let's do that", it took its time to do something different. Innovation, freshness and a user-focused strategy will always produce better products than just copying the guy next to you.

It's not just Samsung that's at it though, everyone else is dropping their hats and chasing a piece of the iPhone pie. It's frustrating watching manufacturers try to make something similar, without grasping the core concept of what makes the product good to start with. The iPhone simply got the touchscreen and most of the interface right.

Tap an icon on the iPhone's screen and something happens instantly. Caress the iPhone's screen with a gentle touch and it still causes a reaction. Everything is laid out so that it's finger-friendly -- okay, the on-screen keypad could be better, but there's not a stylus in sight. It's not rocket science. It just makes sense.

But when you start to look at how some competitors develop products, you start to realise that much of the development happens inside an office, away from the buzz of real people, which is very telling, especially when you think about other successful products out there.

Take the humble fork: it's not very complicated, but it took hundreds of years of design and manufacturing refinements before you got the implement we know and love today. It wasn't developed in an office or by engineers, it was developed by people. The fork was a functional product that changed over time to better serve people's needs.

Although the fork is a simple implement, I don't think the underlying message from its development should dissolve. Keeping a product simple and functional means you're more likely to enjoy using it and keep on using it, but add too many unnecessary or difficult-to-use features and you create barriers.

Windows Mobile is a good example of an overly complicated interface that could be much simpler. Using a Windows Mobile phone can be very fiddly, which is why it's no surprise that HTC completely reformatted its front end on the Touch Diamond, to make it more consumer friendly. But this bolted-on approach is still half-baked -- there's no wow factor there.

If you want to beat Apple at its own game, either make more responsive touchscreens and better software interfaces, or go a completely different route and use your long-term experience and feedback from users to create your version of a mobile fork.