Introduction [The Competitors]

by Josh Rubenoff Apr 20, 2010

I bought my first iPod back in high school, not because of any brand allegiance to Apple or belief in the inherent superiority of its products, but because I felt like I didn't have a choice. I had 30GB of music, and the iPod's closest competitors were the Creative Zen Touch and any number of small-capacity iRiver devices. What ELSE was I going to go with?

I was a pretty active kid, and over the next five years I managed to break 12 iPods due to hard drive failures. Most were still covered under warranty, and I just got a free replacement (although sometimes I had to go to three different Apple Stores before they correctly diagnosed the issue). Some weren't covered. But I stuck with iPods because I felt that they were the only usable option.

In August of 2006, I bought a 20" iMac. Again, not really because I believed that Apple made the best computers, but because I just wanted something usable. At that point I had been restarting my Gateway box with Windows XP fifteen times in a day just so I could open Internet Explorer without it crashing first. I just wanted a computer that I could compute with. And even though I've gone through everything from logic board failure to overheating and bizarre graphics glitches when upgrading to Leopard, at least I don't have to spend thirty minutes in the Task Manager wondering what svchost.exe is and whether quitting it will either shut down my computer or allow it to function normally.

So what's the point of this extended white whine? To relate that I don't feel, nor have I ever felt, that Apple is the last word or the only authority on innovative design and user experience. They're often the only people to get it right, but that doesn't mean they're infallible, or that they've sucked up all the talent in the industry.

The iPod's been out for a decade, and everyone from multi-billion-dollar corporations to brand-new start-ups have spent that decade slowly absorbing Apple's design philosophy and business strategy, and investing heavily in exploiting its weaknesses. It's not like 2007, when the mobile phone and tablet markets were littered with awkward interaction models and inferior technologies. With the iPad and iPhone OS 4, they're ready with their best shots.

Starting here, I'm launching a new series of posts where I write about devices with design concepts that rival the best Apple's done. At the end, I'll also ask what Apple could possibly learn from these devices. I hope you'll enjoy them.


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