The Copycat Culture of Tech Hits the Mobile World in Full Force

T-Mobile Jump

Tech culture is a funny thing. If you track tech news, releases and new ideas closely enough, you’ll notice there’s a very apparent trend that pops up all the time:

  1. Some company has a truly original idea.
  2. Every competing company copies that idea.

It’s funny and sad at the same time, and it’s the same thing that happens every time there’s a truly unique idea in the tech world.

A Truly Original Idea

The most recent example of this has been the ability for tech-happy smartphone owners to upgrade their phones far more often than once every two years. T-Mobile made a big splash in the mobile market last week when it announced ‘Jump,’ which would give customers two mobile upgrades every year for an extra $10 per month. (As a refresher to the new way T-Mobile sells smartphones since they no longer have mobile contracts, you can catch up here.)

Jump is a great idea! A truly original idea. People love upgrading their phones and hate having to wait 20 months two years for a new gadget. (Let’s put aside the fact that you don’t save a much money by constantly upgrading your phones and you no longer have back-up phones to give someone or use in case of emergency. It’s still a very original idea.)

… and the Rest Shall Follow

You know what’s NOT original? The fact that AT&T just announced an almost identical program: Next. (All Things D notes that AT&T issued a memo teasing Next before T-Mobile announced Jump, so it’s unclear whose idea came first. The bottom line is still the same: derivative ideas.) Next would be slightly different from T-Mobile’s plans in a few ways: You’re eligible for an upgrade every 12 months, not six; you don’t need to put a down payment on your device; and there’s no additional monthly fee. It would be more forgivable of a copycat if it was better, but the numbers don’t add up. T-Mobile’s not scared, either, as an executive said it’s a “poor imitation” of Jump.

Want to hear a funny story? Verizon’s reportedly planning the same type of program, called VZ Edge, which would launch in August. The plan is almost identical to Next, which means it, too, is a slight derivation on Jump.

It’s just that type of copycat culture. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sprint announce something similar, except Sprint seems to be doing its own thing over there, with Unlimited, My Way essentially giving you unlimited everything forever and ever.

Not an Isolated Incident

Think back to the biggest tech breakthroughs of the last few years: iPhone, iPad, etc. Every major breakthrough has been imitated and copied and modded and tweaked by just about every company under the sun. I’ve just never seen it happen as quickly as we’ve seen phone carriers do their thing this week.

And this isn’t the last time we’ll see this type of behavior this year. The Pebble Smartwatch was last year’s Kickstarter darling, and recently hit store shelves. You know who else is interested in the smartwatch business? Oh, just about everyone: Google. Apple. Mozilla. Microsoft. TomTom. Sony. Dell. It’s amazing. For a while, I seemed to be posting a story about a new company wanting to enter the smartwatch business… and I know we’ll see the same thing once Google Glass becomes more prevalent.

Innovation breeds competition, which helps create better products for all of us to buy and use. I’d just like to see more unique ideas, rather than everyone piling on whichever bandwagon is hot this hour.

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