HP Calls Out RIM For Copying TouchPad Features In Playbook

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"From what we’ve seen in the market, there are some uncanny similarities," Jon Oakes, HP's director of TouchPad product marketing, told Laptop Magazine Tuesday. Oakes also sarcastically expressed his desire to see RIM to continue "following us by about a year."

Laptop Magazine noted the similarities between the TouchPad and Blackberry Playbook, which include displaying open applications as cards and the ability to close an app by swiping it off the screen. Jeff McDowell, RIM's senior vice president for business and platform marketing, acknowledged that the Playbook "may look like other competitive devices" but insisted that this wasn't RIM's goal.

"When you’re trying to optimize user experience that juggles multitasking, multiple apps open at once and on a small screen, you’re going to get people landing on similar kinds of designs," McDowell told Laptop Magazine.

If you're looking for a foreshadowing of the coming tablet wars, two market newcomers trading barbs about products they've yet to release is telling stuff. HP plans to launch the TouchPad this summer and RIM is expecting to launch the Blackberry Playbook sometime in Q2.

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Steve Beauregard, president of Santa Monica, Calif.-based RIM partner Regard Solutions expects these sorts of battles to erupt with greater frequency as vendors look for any edge then can find in the tablet PC market. "With technology accelerating at such blinding speeds, the lines quickly blur in terms of which company was the thought leader in the first place," Beauregard said.

Meanwhile, at the iPad 2 event, Apple suggested that 2011 will be the year of the iPad copycats. Apple is once again watching, with discernible smugness, as would-be foes tussle over what's left of a market it dominates. It wouldn't be a leap to suggest that Apple is finding the HP-RIM ruckus rather enjoyable.

"HP and RIM are both so far behind in market share, they should worry about Apple more than about competing with each other," said Quy Nguyen, CEO of Allyance Communications, a telecommunications and hosting solution provider in Irvine, Calif.

That's easier said than done: the iPad accounted for 93 percent of the tablet market in the third quarter of 2010, according to recent data from research firm ABI. What's more, the iPad 2 plugs feature gaps that Apple's tablet rivals have been trying their best to highlight, such as front-and-back-facing video camera, faster processor and a thinner design.

If there's a lesson to be drawn from the RIM-HP dustup, it's that tablet vendors will have to develop a feature set that can be sufficiently differentiated and categorized by the potential buyer, according to Joe Bardwell, president and chief scientist of Connect802, a wireless solution provider in San Ramon, Calif.

"Ultimately, all smart phones and tablets are going have access to an almost identical choice of apps, so the differentiation between devices is going to have to run deeper than a clever user interface," Bardwell said.