When RIM announced the BlackBerry PlayBook, it was easy to see the similarities with Palm’s webOS – gesture areas, thumbnailed multitasking, and upward flicks to close apps were all conspicuously familiar. RIM evolved the idea in a few ways, like by throwing a gesture area around all sides of the screen, and adding a few new gestures to summon the keyboard and app menu. When asked about the PlayBook’s user interface, HP’s director of product marketing Jon Oakes said:
“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, so we just know that we have the creative engine here to continue to build on what we have, 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.”
Of course, RIM’s Jeff McDowell, VP of business and platform marketing, had a different take on the situation.
“I feel that we set out from the ground up to define a user experience that we felt would delight our customers, and we landed in a place that may look like other competitive devices. But there was no intention and no preconceived notion that this is what we want to end up looking like. In fact, I think QNX had that design lined up before we even started working with them.
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 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.”
I can appreciate the logic, but I think if RIM wants their new OS to look like anything but a webOS copycat, they’ll have to work on differentiating it further, at least visually, and McDowell’s commentary suggests there will be big changes in the long run. It’s a good thing that they have The Astonishing Tribe in their pocket, because given some creative freedom, those guys will be able to do some very interesting things with the tablet’s QNX-based OS. The HP TouchPad will compete with the PlayBook in terms of specs (if not size), but will have a bonus feature similar to Bridge for those who are already invested in their products (Tap to Share). The only other signature feature RIM hasn’t seriously emulated from Palm products so far is inductive (wireless) charging, but seeing as BlackBerry is a member of the Qi consortium, it might not take long for even that to change.
What do you guys think – is RIM’s sense of style as independent as McDowell suggests, or are they following Palm’s lead?