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Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Adrian Porter Head of Strategic Research

For reasons that will become apparent I found myself today looking for the origins of the phrase that forms the title of this blog. As is often the case I was distracted by an apparently unrelated news article, this time on the Boy Genius Report (BGR) website.

The item concerned the unveiling of Microsoft’s new tablet device and was titled ‘Microsoft Surface tablet is sincerest form of flattery for Apple’. I was intrigued.

The article quoted Topeka Capital Markets analyst Brian White writing in a note to investors:

“If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the compliments from Microsoft poured down like a torrential storm on Apple last night. At the same time, this event indicates to us that Microsoft is still searching for its own identity in the post-PC era, something that has come naturally for Apple with the rise of the mobile internet.”

Of course the question that everyone is asking is whether the Surface is a serious contender for the space that Apple has dominated in recent years. White’s assessment was quite blunt when he said; “we found little in yesterday’s presentation that would convince us that a consumer would prefer Surface over an iPad”.

Three points struck me from what my new mate Brian had said:

  1. Apple will surely not feel threatened by the Surface and will probably see it as affirmation that they are doing things right.
  2. Microsoft are late entering this market since it is inevitable that Apple will have more innovations lined up for release shortly, and from what I have seen the Surface doesn’t offer anything over and above the iPad. In fact in some aspects it comes up short (mobile internet for instance).
  3. Consumers are unlikely to favour the Surface over the iPad, since the iPad is just more stylish.

And these points bring me back to the reason for my original search. It came to the attention of a couple of us in the studio this week that the Lincoln University website had been redesigned. As HE specialists we are always interested in a new university website so we took a look.

Gobsmacked is not an expression I use often, or lightly, but in this instance it describes mine and many of my colleagues’ reactions. Six years ago we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to rebrand Southampton University – part of this major undertaking was to create a new website for them, which has for sometime been a site we are proud of and use as a case study.

I invite you to compare the Lincoln and Southampton websites, and then revisit with me a variation on the three points I made about Apple and Microsoft:

  1. Clearly we should be proud of the work we did for Southampton, it is obviously admired.
  2. The Southampton site is around 6 years old now, and while it is testament to the quality of the design that it still looks great, if we were to do it again tomorrow we have a raft of suggestions and improvements that we feel would make it more contemporary.
  3. See 3 above.