KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 18 — Watched with some interest, the launch of the new iPhone last week. I’ll be the first to admit though that I’m not particularly a huge fan of the products from Cupertino. I reckon they’re vastly over-hyped. And over-priced. But as with all their launches, watching the Apple fanboys go apeshit over every little detail of a new fruit amuses me quite a fair bit.
And so it was that when Tim Cook took to the stage to announce and unveil their latest cash cow, my first thought was this — “Really, that’s all new?” This was rapidly followed by a snigger or two and a fair amount of eyeball-rolling as feature after feature was extolled for all its apparent fruity goodness while I made mental comparisons to various Android phones launched in the past year or two.
In the midst of all this fruity hoopla, I had this sense of deja vu. Like I had seen all this before. Where a product was launched with much fanfare as the “new” whatchamacallit, only for the curtains to lift and for me to go “meh”, struggling to see what was new about it.
I thought about it for a while, then on my third cup of coffee, at 3am in the morning I got it — in full technicolour flashback, no less. I remembered having the same feeling when Audi launched their “new” A6. And again when they launched the “new” A3.
When you think about it, there really is a lot in common between the two companies. Both are fastidious about build quality and material choices. Just as how Apple obsesses about using materials like aluminium and glass on their products when others make do with plastics and polycarbonate, Audi uses exotic aluminium to build their cars and fills their cabins with exotic wood trim, high-grade leather and expensive strips of brushed alloy. Sit in any Audi and you just know a fair bit of time was spent making sure everything looked, smelt and felt expensive to the touch.
They are also both perceived to be the “thinking man’s” choice amongst a sea of competitive products — something once SAAB enjoyed, rather ironically. The appeal of something a bit left-field has always appealed to this bunch — something beyond the usual choices of BMW and Mercedes for their executive rides.
Though having said that, the more people gravitate towards these left field choices, the less left-field they become — but that’s a story for another day.
And they both have their loyal legion of followers. Try to sell a BMW to an Audi fan or a Samsung to an Apple fan and you’ll get what I mean. They simply shrug off alternatives by citing things like build quality, ease of use, “killer apps” and features.
But — and this is where the similarities go a bit downhill — their products share one other trait that I reckon will be their ultimate undoing. They all LOOK the same from one generation to the next.
I mean, look at the iPhone 5 and compare it to the iPhone 4S. Then compare that to the iPhone 4. The design leaps aren’t exactly huge. They’re absolutely miniscule. Compare the present-day Audi A6 to the previous generation and you’ll find the same baby-step evolution. Looking at the “old” A6 and “new” A6 from a side profile, anyone, I reckon, would struggle to pick out the newer incarnation of Ingolstadt’s mid-sized exec from its predecessor.
Similarly, the new A3 is so similar looking to the old A3 that you’d have to really squint to see the updates. And don’t even get me started on the “new” A4.
Compare Audi’s and Apple’s recent efforts with its competitors’ and you’ll find even more similarities.
Samsung’s Galaxy SII and Galaxy SIII are as different from each other as the BMW E90 3-series is from the new F30 —or for that matter, the E39 and the E60 5 series cars. You simply cannot mistake the older car for the newer one. It may be a subjective thing, but I definitely can’t say the same about Audis and Apples.
I’m not sure if this was intentional or just by stroke of luck, but it is nonetheless quite striking how these two companies, in completely different product segments, have mirrored each other’s design principles and qualities so closely.
There is, indeed, some truth in the adage “don’t fix something that ain’t broke.” But when it comes to consumer products, spending tons of cash improving on a product’s innards only to wrap it up in yesterday’s clothes seems, at least to me, such a wasted opportunity to advance industrial design.
Which perhaps explains why, despite Audis being the choice car in my office’s fleet of vehicles, I resolutely stay clear of the four-rings. And the fruit from Cupertino. Though not necessarily in that order. One can only hope their design teams take bigger leaps in the future.