Proliferation of copy cats

This week I learned the the product I make called blocs for Apple TV was being "reproduced" by a company called Tinsel & Timber. There are not a lot of accessories created for the AppleTV so when the review came up in my RSS feeds I was anxious to see what another company had created. Unfortunately I learned they had created their version of the bloc which is hardly unique. I reached out to the company only to get a response from their "professional industrial designer" that he only saw a few things in commom. From the response:

We do design and manufacture an apple TV holder, though this is not the product that you have available on your website. Aside from the fact that the two products both contain an Apple TV and are both manufactured from wood, they have little other design similarities.

I will let you be the judge.

BlocĀ 

Bloc 

Apple TV Tray

Apple TV Tray

hi_res_apple_tv_3_copy_large.jpg

My review of the product on the website yielded very different feelings:

  • almost exatly the same dimensions
  • created from 2 of the 3 species of wood I use (Maple and American Walnut)
  • a slot to hold the AppleTV remote (even the same orientation as the bloc on the right side)
  • instead of one large smooth bowl finger pull they have two smaller versions.
  • instead of the four rubber feet on the bloc they have four cork feet
  • also made in the USA
  • uses the same language I originated, calling it the "home for Apple TV"

To be fair there are some minor differences:

  • their unit has square edges and does not use the same radius corners
  • you have the option to select the color felt to line your remote holder with (I do not have felt)
  • their unit is more expensive (must be the felt)

I'm sad to report that today when anyone makes a new product there is a high degree of probability that it will get knocked off. I have seen this over and over. The product category makes no difference. Software, hardware, accessories, clothing, nothing is immune. Stereotypically you would expect to see this being done by re-producers in Asian countries.

When I speak of copy cats I am explicitly speaking of products that at first glance you can not differentiate from the original. This behavior creates such distrust within ourselves and the buying public at large.

There is another category of products where an existing product is reenvisioned and made it better. Mobile/cellular phones existed before the iPhone. Apple sought to change the way we interact with the our mobile products. From the shape and size to using touch to interact with the device. They got rid of phycisal keyboards, changed the outward appearance and combined services in a phone that had not really existed. This could be considered an extreme an example. Cell phone cases have gone through this as well. Some have taken a standard design and made them different, or better. Withstanding drops better, maybe they are thinner, maybe they have integrated a wallet into the phone case. They are still cases but they are different.

Many of you reading this may feel like this is just another sour grapes post. To some degree it is. I am disappointment at the lack of respect that many creators have for existing products and services and those who actually create them. "Altering" a design slightly to call it original to me is akin to changing the color of the toner in a copy machine. Not only is this insulting but it really begs the question of their professionalism and actual design skill and talent. If your only ability is to tweak someone elses hard work there are plenty of companies who will hire you as an employee. If you feel good about "creating" this type of work and calling it your own then I hope you can sleep well at night.

This mindset is rampant and I would really like to see designers and manufacturers raise their game, in all industries, instead of racing to the bottom.