∞ Apple can be copied, but can it be beat?

Apple has some of the best selling computers in the market, it’s the No. 1 music distributor, it sells movies, TV shows, iPods and it’s changing the mobile space with the iPhone and App Store. It’s also one of the most copied companies in the world, but can anyone beat them? iPhone 3GSIt’s almost funny to watch companies line up to put out products that mimic Apple’s look and functionality. Apple puts out a new iPod and all of a sudden there are iPod clones all over the place.

It’s not just small companies looking to make their mark — big companies have resorted to blatantly ripping off Apple’s ideas. One of the most obvious examples recently is the Microsoft Store.

Companies have copied the iMac design and have tried to mimic the functionality of the iPhone, but everyone is coming up short. Nobody seems to be able to create that product that sets Apple back on its heels, leaves it reeling from the pain of being outdone.

I think there are a couple of reasons for this, which help explain why Apple will not be beat in the markets it competes in.

First and foremost, the companies that compete with Apple are competing with the product that it just released. Apple releases something, companies scramble to copy it and get it on store shelves.

Unfortunately for them, Apple has already moved on. The product they released is old and they are working on the next version of software and hardware to make it even better.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone with the vision to outdo Steve Jobs and the talent he has been able to attract at Apple. In order to beat Apple, you have to know what Steve is going to do next year, the next three years and the next five years.

Without that knowledge, competitors will be left copying Apple’s products.

There is no doubt that Jobs is a unique individual, and he is probably one of the greatest tech visionaries there is, but he’s also smart enough to surround himself with the brightest people in the business.

The talent at Apple is second to none, period. With the vision of Jobs and the talent of the employees, it’s hard to imagine that another company could outthink or outperform the innovative products.

Most of the products that try to compete one-on-one with Apple lose. The iMac clones failed, the iPod clones failed, there is nobody even close selling as much music and every smartphone on the market is compared to the iPhone.

Even Nokia is giving up the fight with Apple’s retail store in London, England. They just weren’t able to compete.

Apple is taking on all comers and at this point, it’s hard to see anyone that can stop them.

  • Yes, it can. cf. DEC in 1987 was at the top of the world and gone by 1997. cf. GM in 1955 and GM today.

    • Brian

      That is a ridiculous. The question wasn’t about DEC or GM. Apple has been the top innovator in the computing world since 1997.

      It’s been copied in endless ways. No company has ever had a better product, ever, IMHO.

      The 90’s were bleak in terms of software availablity. But the OS was better than Windows, even then. Of course, that isn’t saying much.

      • Brian

        *1979, not 1997

    • Dave, what an idiotic comparison Dave Barnes : online since 1932, and gone by 2010

  • But it took some innovative ideas and companies to beat GM. Besides the damage it did to itself over the years.

  • Mac Newton

    On a long enough timeline, every warrior eventually falls. But at this time in history, Apple is the head honcho. Apple brings a lot of charisma, excels at consumer-level innovation, and truly personalizes the personal computer experience.

    Apple can be “copied” inasmuch The Beatles can be copied. But all you’d end up with would be The Monkees.

    And that, my friend, ain’t The Beatles.

    • Brian

      Well said. And I would add that in the 60’s and 70’s there were some people who thought the Monkeys were better. Today, these people are called Windows users.

  • Harvey

    I think that there are at least 2 more reasons for Apple’s product successes.

    First would be that Apple creates an entire “eco-system” around its products. For example, the iPhone is part of an eco-system which includes the App Store, Mac OS X, the iTunes application, MobileMe, iPhoto, and iCal. Everything works in unison. But competitors who produce a similar looking mobile phone are selling basically a stand-alone product, which doesn’t have the same added value features or integration.

    Second, Apple’s products have a “polish” or attention to detail that most competitors don’t imbue in their products. Again using the iPhone as an example, the hardware and software has a look and feel of high quality. That is something that’s very difficult to imitate.

  • Algores Nutz

    “heal” – to get better

    “heel” – bottom part of human foot

    • Jim Dalrymple

      Yep, silly mistake. It’s fixed.

  • jr

    Algorez, it’s a mac thing. We’ve learnt to think “different”. 😉

  • Listen guys I must agree every item or technology I use today is Apple including i-Phone MacBook Pro, and I must be honest it is alot better than Microsoft. For example the new windows seven, that is copying a mac completely it says it has immediate start up you pin things to the taskbar and now come on that has been mac for years so I must just say Microsoft get your own ideas even with the phone I mean have any of you guys seen the advert “you can get thousands of ‘apps’ for your Microsoft Phone ” be a little more inventive OMG man

  • Hoovenson Haw

    One of Mister Jobs’ ‘talents’ is the ability to say “No”.

    • Jim Dalrymple

      Good point.

  • Mac Genius

    I think the article is right, even though Apple can be copied by a maniac but I don’t think anyone could ever defeat them. First obious example is Microsoft, look at these products that they have been released.

    1. Windows (another ripoff from Mac)
    2. Zune (another ripoff from the iPod)
    3. Zune Marketplace (another ripoff from the iTunes Music Store)
    4. Microsoft Stores (another ripoff from the Apple Store)
    5. Gurus (another ripoff from the Apple Geniuses)

    What will Microsoft do if Apple never existed right now? I don’t know. Maybe they’ll start to copy Linux.

    Email me what you guys think.

    Mac OS X: The world’s most advanced operating system, it does more, it costs less, it just works and it’s that simple.

  • Drew

    Apple has great execution, designers, build quality blah, blah, blah. With a lot of expense and miracles you can get that too.

    The killer reason Apple will beat you now and for the foreseeable future is: Apple has OS X and you don’t.

  • hardmanb

    “What will Microsoft do if Apple never existed right now?”

    That’s easy. Microsoft would still be a command line DOS operating system.

  • Chanson de Roland

    Trying to copy or anticipate Steve Jobs’ vision or the innovation of his team is a bootless endeavor. What is missing among Apple’s competitors is their own vision and the culture to execute on that vision. Steve Jobs, his lieutenants, engineers, and designers are great at knowing, skating to, and even creating where the puck is going to be. To compete against Apple, its competitors will have to also be able know and even create where the puck is going to be. At present, none of Apple’s competitors seem to be able to do any more than simply copy and dance to the tune that Apple calls.

  • Tut

    Apple is doing fine these days, but no company can remain at the top forever. The reason is simple: Leaders with exceptional vision are very rare, and when they sooner or later step down, the decline begins. Slow in the beginning, but unless the company is lucky enough to find a leader of the same caliber, the decline accelerates. The examples are too numerous to count.

    Who in the industry comes even close to Steve Jobs? I can’t think of one.

    Ive is a marvelous designer, but how many of his prototypes has Jobs killed? Let me guess they are more than I have fingers. Cooke is a great manager, but what kind of visionary is he? Has he shown any such skills before? I could go on. The top execs are all the best of the best at what they do, but who has it all? Who can look at a prototype and tell the designers they have to kill it and start over, and be right?

  • Jono

    Martyn Connolly,

    Don’t be afraid to use the period key and the Shift key. It gets pretty hard to read otherwise.

  • Gil

    I think the reason no one will ever beat apple is because everyone thinks it’s just about slick products. Apple is more about superior intergration. The fact that they make the whole “widget” is still the key. The iPod and to a great extent, the iPhone too follows the formula. Everything is an extension of the whole. That’s why when something new comes out it just fits. Competitors are always going to see the new Apple gadget and say ‘we can do that..’ but the hardware itself is often only a percentage of the overall product. The iPhone really was an extension of iTunes just like the iPod. All the stuff you could fill it with through iTunes was the real deal. The biggest problem for Apple going forward will not be dealing with copy-cats, but with jealous ‘partners’ or potential partners who may deni Apple access to services they need to cater to their customers. Think ATT restricting data usage, or video content producers hesitant to license their media. No, no one can beat Apple, but they are really going to slow them down.

  • David M.

    Let’s re-hire Gilbert Amelio as Apple CEO, that’s a sure fire way for Apple to lose any advantages or innovation leads it currently has.

  • wino

    I couldn’t believe it when Windows7 came up with the very original tagline ‘It Just Works’. These guys are marketing Genius’s (or is that Guru’s).

    Except they were only a decade late on that one.

  • jr

    QUOTE: “I couldn’t believe it when Windows7 came up with the very original tagline ‘It Just Works’. “

    If they were honest, they’d underline or italicise the word just. 😉

  • Roger
    • OS X is the core of all Apple technology.

    • The collective feedback of the Mac Community is one of Apple’s strongest assets.

    There are many reasons why Apple is on fire right now, and honestly I don’t think Windows has the steam to finish Apple off any more. Windows 7 is good, for a Windows OS, and I think it’s the last iteration that will ever do them any real good. The best from Apple is yet to come.

    On a side note, I agree with Gil, partners can be a thorn on the backside, even ATT with all it has gained from Apple’s iPhone, is losing its ability to negotiate at the table when Apple is calling the shots. Don’t even get me started on Google, I already started phasing them out.

  • TechBoy13

    Apple just has the power to create products that are so simple Microsoft can not even compete. Google trying to get into the game is just failing, with the Nexus One a ok" product, iPhone is still in the lead with 40% of U.S smartphone market. OS X is just way to simple and powerful. And with this iSlate or Apple Tablet, I dont see competion accept APPle kicking butts.