Noticing that Research in Motion’s Blackberry Playbook looks a lot like the HP TouchPad, Laptop Mag’s Mark Spoonauer has instigated a minor spat between the two companies.
A little background: HP’s 10-inch TouchPad uses WebOS, the operating system HP acquired along with Palm last year. The first device to use it, Palm’s Pre, launched in 2009. RIM’s OS is powered by QNX, a company that RIM acquired last year, and the 7-inch Playbook’s interface is built from scratch. Both platforms feature an app tray on the bottom of the screen and large panels representing open apps above. At a glance, they’re nearly identical.
With that in mind, Spoonauer asked a marketing executive from each company to comment on the similarities.
Here’s John Oakes, the HP TouchPad’s director of product marketing:
“From what we’ve seen in the market, there are some uncanny similarities. It’s a fast innovation cycle and a fast imitation cycle in this market … and we’ll keep innovating, we’ll keep honing and those guys hopefully will continue to see the value in it and keep following us by about a year.”
And here’s Jeff McDowell, RIM’s senior vice president for business and platform marketing:
“You know, cars over time end up looking a lot alike because you put them through a wind tunnel, and when you’re trying to come up with the best coefficient to drag ratio, there’s one optimized shape that gets the best wind resistance, right? Well, when you’re trying to optimize user experience … you’re going to get people landing on similar kinds of designs.”
Personally, I don’t care who’s imitating whom, because both platforms have enough of their own perks to be distinct. The Playbook has extensive swipe-based gestures and a transparent approach to multitasking. The TouchPad has the “Just Type” bar and a resizeable keyboard. Of course, they’ll also have their own app ecosystems and their own frustrating little quirks.
That’s why it bothers me when I see Apple and HTC and Motorola and Apple suing each other over Android and iOS interface patents. Similarities will be inevitable; some of them may have legal merit. But lawsuits don’t make for better platforms, and touch-based interfaces are evolving to quickly for lawsuits to keep up, anyway.
I’m glad Spoonauer got these responses, not because it’s a bloody good fight, but because it shows that HP intends to brush off the similarities and keep innovating. If the company’s playful jabs ever become bitter legal disputes, I’ll be disappointed.