Classic. Focus groups will NEVER help you differentiate your product. They will always tell you what they know, and they know Apple and Sony.
I tend to believe that a successful focus group isn't so much what the people say that makes them valuable. As you say above, they will migrate to what is familiar or easy for them to quantify:
"I like Sony, therefore it looks like Sony and must be good" instead of "I like that it is a low profile modernist-style product with good material choices and unique color usage"
IMO the focus group model is successful to provide the company a gauge as to whether they are in the right direction. There is nothing actionable retrieved from a pile of "I like red" comments.
So far, my experience has proven that the design direction to go with is usually NOT the top choice of the group but a successful outlyer. One that people react to positively, but not overwhelmingly. Upon a second or third look they continue to warm to it. It grows on them. Eventually becoming an icon.
Based on what I read in the many Xbox 360 articles that are floating about, the new design satisfied the immediate positive focus group reaction. Which generally
means that by the time it reaches the market it is dated.
Anyone else have the same experience with focus groups? I am far from a focus group veteran, but what experience I do have has proven this out to me more than once.