The Times published a wispy report on how Samsung has announced not that they are about to release a “smart watch” — a watch with computer functions — but only that they are working on one. Presumably, Samsung hopes to preclude the notion that the company is simply copying Apple, which is rumored to be developing a smart watch.
One reader — call him Mr. X — claims to be “saddened” by this evidence of market rivalry. He feels it’s “sad to witness” both Samsung’s alleged copying of Apple (or of other companies already making smart watches) and Apple’s forthcoming attempt to “force” smart watches on us.
Perhaps unbeknownst to himself, X’s lament implies that the whole market process is a continuous tragedy, only occasionally interrupted when sweeping novelty comes along.
How often is a major new product category invented, after all? Farmers sell wheat—must they offer a new strain of wheat for their efforts to be valuable? What about napkin manufacturers? Car makers? Computer makers? Should we shed tears when anybody competes with anybody else in the same decades-old or centuries-old product category?
Inventions are great. But not everything on the shelf must be a brand-new kind of product to be well made and worth getting. Incremental improvements matter too. If companies took X’s complaint seriously, their ability to provide goods and services would be thwarted.
What we want from the “competition” is usually not “the new” but the slightly better, or the substantially less expensive.
Capitalism owes its essence to copycats as well as innovators.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.