In the light of the recent launch of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, a prior article on the importance of innovative design came to mind. It was a review of a new smartphone coming out of China (I’m looking for a new one so I’m considering options, including those that might possibly appear in the future):
This review was not supposed to go this way. When we decided to order the Mi4, we wanted to learn more about Android in China, but we also expected it to be kind of a laugh. It’s easy to look at the pictures and dismiss the Mi4 as a cheap iPhone knockoff, but it is so much better than that.
Everything here is top notch: The best specs, fantastic build quality, a beautiful screen, a dirt cheap price, and software that, while different, works both aesthetically and functionally. If only the company came up with its own hardware design. If Xiaomi ever does apply itself with some original designs, look out world, because this company will be going places.
The review ends with:
Watching a company with a potential for greatness hamstring itself because it just can’t get over its Apple envy. Xiaomi would do great in the West, except that the derivative design would possibly get it sued out of existence.
The challenge then is to out-design rather than out-manufacture Apple and not be too intimidated by their daunting reputation and achievements in this area, an interesting psychological position to be in.
By coincidence, there was an article in Fast Company yesterday complaining about a lack of innovation in Apple design! Here’s an extract:
I miss the chunky playful plastic designs of the past, especially the Pixar-lamp-like iMac G4. I miss the toy-like references to plastic Swatch watches (the clamshell iBook) and the Memphis Group of the 1980s (the original iMac). That was idiosyncratic, ballsy design; that was a design aesthetic that some would loathe. It was design that a shamelessly style-free megacorporation like Samsung could never really copy in the hopes of being considered “good design.” Samsung, or HTC, or LG, or Motorola, they can all copy modern Apple. It’s easy. Make it thin, use a single block of aluminum, use glass. Presto: now you have design. Bullshit. Innovative design isn’t just about adhering to rules set out by someone else.
There are companies who are actually trying. In addition to the aforementioned Lumia phones, the Jawbone Jambox managed to combine industrial materials (hard rubber, metal grilles) with repeated patterns and bold colors to give them a sense of play, and even Apple’s own Mac Pro is weird and thoughtful enough to grab my attention: never before has a computer shaped like a garbage can seemed like such a good idea.
So maybe there really is an opening in a very standardised marketplace for someone brave enough to take it?
More generally, and at a more mundane level, it’s interesting that when you’re setting up a venture, are you in reality trying to emulate an existing and successful business (with a slight variation) or aiming for something that goes beyond that, even if it’s in ways that you yourself don’t yet fully understand? See also previous post below.