Mark Frauenfelder at 10:16 am Wed, Aug 26, 2009
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At a recent Ignite show, designer Jeff Veen gave an entertaining talk on iPhone copycats as a kind of cargo cult.
Ignite Show: Jeff Veen on Great Designers
I’d be curious to know how much is “cargo cult” and how much is simple self interest.
In a sense, counterfeit currency is a “cargo cult” artifact, in that it duplicates the form without duplicating the cause; but nobody would describe it as such because it has another, fairly obvious, purpose that it fulfills quite well. Similarly, a knockoff is only “cargo cult” if the knocker-off is actually mistaken about what they are doing. If they are merely cynically imitating the easiest and most obvious aspects of another product in the hopes of driving sales, it’s just a knock-off.
This talk was largely stolen (from Feynman)
Bad artists imitate, great artists steal. – Picasso Banksy
Good design is *not* necessarily innovative. It doesn’t even have to be aesthetically pleasing, although that’s always nice.
Good design creates a pleasing experience. Full stop.
Apple’s often not the absolute first â€” they do, however, popularize and set trends, which understandably leads many people to believe it began with them.
Also important to remember that beyond words (which have their purpose in marketing), if you can ignite emotions and charm behavior, then that’s a substantial cusp of success.
When I think of “cargo cult”, I think of The Gods Must Be Crazy.
The genius of the great artist is not in the stealing, but in recognizing what to steal … and in knowing what to do with it.
Why the hell is “cargo cult” such a meme lately? The way it’s used here is really a stretch. And that seems typical.
Can we PLEASE agree to stop spreading this meme?
– Xenu, Lord of the Galaxy.
He’s not talking about iPhone copycats as a kind of cargo cult. He’s talking about aping superficial design elements versus copying the deep underlying principles that actually work in the design process. There are a couple graphics that show the iPhone (though it is not clear whether these were part of his presentation or were put in after the fact,) but they are just shown as an example. I don’t think he said the word “iPhone” once. I’m not going to go back to check though, that guy was just too damn happy to re-watch.
What idea is not stolen, when you get down to it?
Everything is a synthesis of other ideas.
For those who think Android will eat iPhone’s lunch, consider that those Android phones will be designed by the same ol’ clueless handset manufacturers. And they will try to “add value” to their generic Android phones by pre-loading their own branded crapware (c.f. Windows PCs).
Yes, this is the wrong analogy. I would think it’s more like: have the phone, don’t pay for the network. This is more driven by fashion copying rather than some religious madness (which is what cargo cultism was really about)
For the record, I have no idea what the point was that he was trying to get across.
Score one for Ignite!
“You imitate the best and you steal from the rest.”
- Joni Mitchell
Cargo cults? So last century – give me a remake of ‘the gods must be crazy’ with an iPhone instead of a coke bottle.
“iPhone copycats are a modern day cargo cult”
P.S. Let’s not forget that Steve Jobs “invented” (stole) most of the Mac from the Xerox Alto.
Success truly has a thousand fathers, and failure is an orphan. See anyone bragging about being an Apple ‘Lisa’ developer? No? Do you think it could be because that platform was a failure?
And at that time, one could buy (primitive) color graphics video boards for the PC. There *was* no Mac which had a color display; Jobs said that (I’m paraphrasing) computers don’t need color displays, because they would have no purpose.
You can talk about cargo cults all you want, but Apple is the most cultish company in Silicon Valley.
The point of the “cargo cult” was that they got it wrong because: they weren’t honest with themselves. Feynman was explaining why honesty is so important to science.
iPhone knockoffs are just scammers lying to others.
When the iPhone was first announced, I was joyous for what I perceived as an unambiguous wake-up call to the mobile phone industry: It’s time to focus on usability!
Indeed, how mistaken I was. And yet, segments of the market proved easily folded into this cargo cult — if a competing product looks like the iPhone, which I am told is a good product, why, if I happen to lack the appropriate technical knowledge, should I assume it’s any different?
Fortunately, the wake-up call was not completely unheeded: while the vast majority of post-iPhone attempts at UIs may have merely aped its appearance, a few like Palm understood, realizing that you don’t make planes out of bamboo and that you don’t necessarily need a B-24 to fly.
The LG Prada and HTC Touch were released BEFORE the iPhone. Other very similar phones were released soon after, too soon to have taken the design from the iPhone.
The iPhone menu was nothing new either – look at popular menus like SPB Mobile shell.
The iPhone simply did what the rest of the industry was already doing. It did things better than most – but then it was a more expensive phone.
Remember in the late 90s when everybody started selling colorful electronics because they figured that was what made the iMac so popular?
The most cargo cultish is Microsoft’s Zune’s closed iTunes copy. They already had a DRM-infested but open shop/software. They saw iTunes succeed where they failed … and the only lesson they took is a minor, actually negative non-feature. They removed value and pissed off users and business partners because they were to dumb to figure out what made iTunes/iPod work.
The LG Prada & HTC Touch were released before the iPhone, so im not sure who copied who.
That said, why would anyone want to buy into the closed and restrictive ecosystem that is the iTouch/iPhone/iTunes ?
I’m not sure they really thought that, Brainspore. I think they thought that some people would buy the stuff due to association and they were probably right.
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