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.

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.

Featured on thefancy.com !

I have occaisonally mentioned here that I created the blocs for AppleTV. but I have tried to just let people find them organically and not really push them.  If you read the about us page of the blocs site you will see the problems I was trying to solve and see if you have had a similar expereince.

Tonight I was super happy to receive an email today from the company letting me know that blocs were being featured on the home page tonight ! 

If you have any questions you can leave me a comment here or use the contact page on the blocs.tv site

  <a href="http://www.thefancy.com/things/179335694966068439/Walnut-bloc-for-Apple-TV" ><img src="http://static1.squarespace.com/static/50059fb5c4aacee3f82e744c/52d6db16e4b0485536ab0434/51146091e4b07596654fb223/1360289938091/fancy+2.png" alt=""/></a>

Featured on thefancy.com

I have occaisonally mentioned here that I created the blocs for AppleTV. but I have tried to just let people find them organically and not really push them.  If you read the about us page of the blocs site you will see the problems I was trying to solve and see if you have had a similar expereince.

Tonight I was super happy to receive an email today from the company letting me know that blocs were being featured on the home page tonight ! 

If you have any questions you can leave me a comment here or use the contact page on the blocs.tv site

iPhone 5 the details that matter

I have yet to get my hands on an iPhone 5 but I have preordered one (32gig Black AT&T). The things that I notice most is the level of attention to minuscule details that most companies what not consider. In John Gruber’s’ write up he calls out the portion that Apple mentions about the finish:

iPhone 5 is made with a level of precision you’d expect to find in a finely crafted watch, not a smartphone.

Never before has this degree of fit and finish been applied to a phone. Take the glass inlays on the back of iPhone 5, for instance.

    iPhone 5 chamfered edges   iPhone 5 chamfered edges 

What struck me the most was watching the video of the making of the iPhone 5. Jony Ive speaks about the special manufacturing tecniques used to create the appearance they want. There are 2 scences which show the machining of the aluminum band. One shows a tool cutting a smooth 45 degree chamfer around the outer edge followed by a diamond cutter which polishes the aluminum to a mirror like finish.

    Aluminum chamfer   Aluminum chamfer 




    Crystalline polishing machining   Crystalline polishing machining 

This process did not exist in the building of the 4s because the glass protruded beyound the band. Initially I remember feeling the squared off edges of the glass in my hands and thinking they were sharp – but not painful. Now that the glass is flush with the band I can imagine this being a better feeling in the users hand because of this attention to detail.

When I was designing blocs, the original finger pull where the remote lives was a square deep plunge into the wood.

    Early finger pull    Early finger pull 

While it provided easy access it was not a satisfying feeling. It was inelegant – boxy – crude.  My friend who was working with our C&C manufacturer found a way to create a bowl like depression that intersected with the remote recessed area. This was an AHA moment.

    Smooth finger pull   Smooth finger pull 

While I am in no means comparing the work I have done to that of Apple or Jony Ive, I do feel like I have a better understand  how the obsession with creating a pleasing experience for the user can add so much value.

Looking forward to getting my hands on the iPhone 5!

Bloc ~ The Perfect placeholder for your Apple TV

Woke up this morning to a nice write up by the designers at mmminmal. The site is described as:
a blend of tasteful designs and articles based on the concept of minimalism. The site mmminimal is currently run by the likes of Rob Hope and Derek Clark, two web dev/designers based in Cape Town, South Africa.

Flipping through their posts it made it an obvious addition to my feed reeder !

Thanks mmminimal !

“We love this! Bloc is seriously the perfect compliment to your Apple TV. Designed and crafted by Apple fans the Bloc is not only pretty but functional too. The weighted base prevents your HDMI cable of moving your Apple TV all over the place as I’m sure you have experienced. The remote place holder saves you from having to look all over the place to find your “clicker” or in my case another trip to the Apple store… Somebody buy this for us now!”

The Brooks Review on blocs

Ben Brooks from the Brooks Review wrote a nice commentary on blocs. Ben was one of the original six writers that I sent a prototype to.  I did not know any of them but I just asked them one question.  Tell me what you think about the concept and design. Good or bad.  I was trying to decide to go forward and “ship” this design or pack it up and try something else.  

As I mentioned I have never met Ben.  But from reading his site and listening to his podcasts with Shawn Blanc I felt like I had a good idea of who he was.  Ben also has very strong views about design (I share many of these) – and it is that type of opinion that I really wanted ! 

When I reached out to these busy people I told them the reasons why this idea came to me.  I was worried, because one of the reasons was the rotating of the unit on my TV stand – it truly made me mental. So it was with great joy when I read this:

My Apple TV was always being pulled to one angle or another and while this doesn’t effect the operation, it sure bugged the crap out of me.

All six writers provided comments and criticism on how to make the product better.  This information was truly invaluable, without it my idea would never have come to fruition.  Ben  was also correct on the thickness.  He has a near finished prototype (ver.13 or 14 I think) but there were more refinements to the overall thickness (it decreased by a little more than 1/8″) before the product that is shipping now was finalized.

Thanks Ben

The Week in iOS Accessories Macworld

Nice mention today in Macworld for blocs in the iOS Accessories column.

“Bloc: Admittedly, we don’t see accessories for the Apple TV come along too often, but the $39 Bloc for Apple TV is a nice exception to the rule. It’s a wooden tray—it comes in cherry, maple, or walnut—with slots for both the Apple TV and its remote control. The device lets you create a permanent resting spot for your Apple TV, keeps the perhaps-too-small-and-light device from being pulled behind your entertainment center by heavy cables, and helps you stop losing the remote in the crevices of your couch.”

— Macworld

 The Walnut bloc for Apple TV
Walnut Bloc for Apple TV

This week in iOS Accessories