It is sometimes tempting to imitate someone else’s unique idea or approach. You might think you can do it better, a proven market can be a lure, innovation takes effort, and the perception of lower risk is attractive. Android phones have copied quite a bit of the iPhone IOS and Android has done well. Microsoft copied Apple and that seems to have turned out well. There are many other examples. Unless you have a unique improvement, see a huge untapped opportunity in a market, or have some other secret weapon, try to resist the temptation. Keep in mind that Android is given to phone hardware manufacturers at no charge and their only other option is Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system. Google is certainly innovative, but Android’s initial reason for existence was not to create a unique smartphone. Google built Android to prevent Apple from gaining a dominance in their lucrative advertising business.
Do you remember the Microsoft Zune music player? It was good product, but could never compete with the iPod. The original was too good. By the time the Zune matched the basic capabilities of the iPod, Apple had moved onto the iPod Shuffle, Nano, Touch, iPhone, etc.
Have you tried Windows 8? I tried it at a kiosk in Seattle airport and it is also a good product. It took a few minutes to understand “charms, tiles, menu swipes, and split screens,” but it looked like a modern version of Windows for touch screens. Will it do well? It is still too soon to say, but at least Microsoft is trying a unique approach this time around.
For niche technology companies, uniqueness is valuable in ways that go far beyond making money by selling a product or service. Once you are “ahead of the curve,” your ability to innovate can be used to create the next great idea, while others in the industry struggle to keep up. In many markets, only the number one company is profitable, number two typically breaks even, and the rest lose money. There is always the danger of getting too far ahead of your market, but this risk is worthwhile since it is easier to slow down the pace of innovation as opposed to playing catch up. So resist that temptation: imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but not when you are flattering your competitors.