I was going to let all the talk about iOS 7 happily pass me by but I could not resist given the interesting conversations that have sprung up relating to "Design Theft" and "Imitation". Nokia sent the first shot across the bow with this image:

Nokia imitation is the best form of flattery

Clearly indicating that polycarbonate color schemes were their idea... still not convinced, lets take a look at the Lumia line up next to the 5C line up (courtesy of Morten Nikolaisen):

iPhone 5C and Nokia Color comparison

Paul Thurott went a little further with this gem (emphasis mine):

I like what Nokia is doing, messaging-wise. But this doesn't go far enough.
The iPhone 5C is outright design theft, minus the utility of being able to remove the color back and replace it with either a different color back or, in some cases, a different color back that also adds additional capabilities like wireless charging; these are features offered by various Lumia handsets.

Even John Gruber seems to acknowledge the lack of real innovation (emphasis mine):

With the iPhone 5C Apple may well have created what will prove to be the most popular smartphone in the world, based almost entirely on year-old technology, distinguished only by its colorful plastic casing — yet still sold at premium prices compared to the rest of the industry. Not bad.

This is good for Apple, but not the consumer, right?

Then there is iOS7 itself. Let me be officially on the record by saying that I think iOS 7 is a genuinely pristine paint job for iPhones and iPads alike. However, it clearly mimics the best parts of the "metro design" feel in a perfectly Apple centric way, and I think once people get past the initial shock, it will be an absolute hit! iOS 6 officially  looks awful.

It seems Apples strategy is set, they have the brand to push forward a wonderful device and they have the ability to pick up design ideas and innovations from products that simply do not have the same appeal or reach … oh they come up with some pretty amazing stuff themselves too. It would seem that the only mechanism to attack Apple would be at the low end of the market, and that is a market that they would readily concede:

To Cook, the mobile industry doesn’t race to the bottom, it splits. One part does indeed go cheap, with commoditized products that compete on little more than price. “There’s always a large junk part of the market,” he says. “We’re not in the junk business.” The upper end of the industry justifies its higher prices with greater value. “There’s a segment of the market that really wants a product that does a lot for them, and I want to compete like crazy for those customers,” he says. “I’m not going to lose sleep over that other market, because it’s just not who we are. Fortunately, both of these markets are so big, and there’s so many people that care and want a great experience from their phone or their tablet, that Apple can have a really good business.”

My read on this statement is that Apple has no corporate driven need or desire to serve emerging markets. If an emerging market needs a phone there is a plethora of "junk" ready to serve them. I know most of this post ignores the fact that Android outsells iPhone by a very wide margin but you have to just look at the profits to see who is really winning the war.  

So short of a fundamentally different product that challenges the notion of smart phones (think PC to Tablet relationship) a few alternate cosmetic design decisions by its competitors will not be enough to offset this balance in any meaningful way. Smartphones with a better cost/value proposition can continue to innovate but that can easily be absorbed by iOS. At this point the damage is done and the rules are set, you cannot beat Apple in the smartphone game by attempting to change the color of the uniforms. Your best bet is to build a new stadium and invent a new game.