IMac emulators will always fail - design guru

PC manufacturers that try to copy the iMac without understanding Apple's ethos are doomed to fail
Written by Matt Loney, Contributor

PC manufacturers have failed to learn the lessons dealt out by Apple -- a failure that could lead them to obscurity -- according to a UK finalist in the International Forum Design awards, Alloy Total Design.

The IF awards, which are to be presented at CeBIT this week, have been running since 1954 and feature high on the international design community calendar. But designers of PCs are unlikely to feature, according to Gus Desbarats, managing director of Alloy, because manufacturers have singularly failed to grasp the idea of using design to create a brand. As result, said Desbarats in an interview with ZDNet UK prior to the awards, PCs as we know them deserve to disappear from sight.

"The trouble with PCs is that there is no emotional attachment," said Desparats. "You buy Dell perhaps because they have faster processors than their competitors offer for the same price. But what happens when you no longer need faster processors? There is nothing in the Dell box that communicates the Dell brand. If they could do something different they might open up new horizons." But few PC manufacturers are doing anything different, and through such inaction are only tempting the inevitable, said Desbarats.

"PC manufacturers need to keep a clear eye on the desktop -- this is what people touch. You have Microsoft on the screen, and Logitech at your fingers. Where does this leave the PC maker? Throw in some wireless, and the box could end up stuck in a cupboard."

The demise of the PC will only be hastened once people start to think of the PC as more of a vending machine for service, he believes. "The telephone is a vending machine for network time -- your choice of telephone is voluntary, so you choose a phone that provides a good experience. With Microsoft you buy the software, they take your money and then a year or two later you have to upgrade. It is not a voluntary thing, and it's the same with PCs."

The exception to the rule is, of course, Apple. Apple's achievement, according to Gus Desbarats, is in taking care of the details. "People like details, and Apple understands that. Companies that try to copy the look of an Apple case without understanding the Apple ethos always fail," said Desbarats. "All the translucent PC case designs failed. Why? Because they did not understand how to add value to the brand."

And contrary to popular belief, the success of Apple is not all about the operating system, Desbarats added. "Loyalty is much more about detail." Getting the details right requires proper design and proper branding. Those PC manufacturers that do manage to sort out their design, he believes, will be the ones that survive. Sadly, few have so far managed to do so. "I can't understand why better design does not happen. All I read about is margin cutting, but only one supply can be cheapest."

"The problem is that the PC business still does not understand branding. What PC makers need to understand is that a brand is not a name on a building in big letters. It is a set of attributes. For instance, Apple has character, and has used that to help build loyalty in the graphics and design industry."

A few lessons could be learned from the auto industry, reckons Desbarats. "It will be interesting to see if PC makers can create brands in the same way the car makers do," he said. "The technologies are very similar -- you take the same basic elements but create a very different feel and brand around them."

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Go to the ZDNet news forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.

Editorial standards