Is BlackBerry PlayBook an HP TouchPad Copycat, or Vice Versa?

BlackBerry PlayBook and HP TouchPad OSes have similarities, raising the question of whether those similarities are intentional or the result of each company hitting on the ideal interface.

The Apple iPad may have touched off the entire tablet market, but that isn't stopping competitors from trying to pull rank.

While at a glance, RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook and Hewlett-Packard's TouchPad could pass for iPad siblings-screen-size differences aside-the two feature operating systems that bear still more in common. Each features "cards," representing applications, that users can swipe through. And in both RIM's QNX-based BlackBerry Tablet OS and HP's webOS, swiping a card off the screen closes the application.

Stirring the pot, Laptop Magazine went to both HP and RIM looking for comments.

"From what we've seen in the market, there are some uncanny similarities. It's a fast innovation cycle and a fast imitation cycle," Jon Oakes, HP's director of product marketing for TouchPad, reportedly told the magazine.

Oakes implied that HP wasn't worried, given its talented team. "We just know that we have the creative engine here to continue to build on what we have," he added.

Jeff McDowell, RIM's senior vice president for business and platform marketing, responded that RIM, like its competitors, set out on the same mission: to create the very best user experience. So it's not terribly surprising that they wound up at the same place.

"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?" McDowell said. "Well, 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."

And maybe HP didn't even arrive at the design first.

"In fact," said McDowell, "I think QNX (a software company, focused on in-vehicle applications, that RIM purchased in April 2009) had that design lined up before we even started working with them."

Analyst Ken Hyers, with Technology Business Research, said that hardware is where the major differentiation is happening right now.

"Just look at the [Motorola] Atrix and its laptop dock to see how Motorola took the same Android OS available to everyone else and managed to create a genuinely new class of device," Hyers told eWEEK. "On the OS side of things, developers right now are pretty much offering variations on a theme, which means lots of design elements will look the same across platforms."

Still, he said, "Practically everything happening in tablets has been borrowed to some extent from Apple. And really, the same is still true for most modern smartphones, which also owe much to Apple."

How does Apple feel about such similarities? Introducing the iPad 2 March 2, a slide behind Apple CEO Steve Jobs-showing logos for Samsung, HP, BlackBerry, Motorola and Google's Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" OS-asked: "2011: Year of the copycats?"

Apple sold 15 million iPads in the nine months from April to December 2010. The iPad 2, however, which will go on sale March 11, is faster, thinner and lighter, and has two cameras, a gyroscope, 10 hours of battery life and 3G coverage from either AT&T or Verizon Wireless.

Jobs went on to suggest that 2011 will, instead, be the year of the iPad 2.