iPad Competitors? Send In The Clones

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that darn near every new smart phone being released looks like the iPhone, and almost every tablet coming out looks like the iPad?

Is there no other form factor that works for these devices. Must they all look like cheap knockoffs of Apple’s devices? Can’t some hardware engineer somewhere come up with a design that does things differently, if not better, than the way Apple does it?

What is the deal here? Is there a complete dearth of creativity in hardware design these days? Has Apple hired up every designer with even a hint of originality, leaving the rest of the industry with soulless zombie hacks to pick over? Are there no CEOs with a vision and the guts to take a chance on a hunch other than Steve Jobs?

Currently, beyond some minor dimensional tweaks and pumped specs, the only real differentiator between the iPad, for instance, and other tablets is the OS and other software these devices support. And while it’s probably clear to most of you that I prefer iOS, the reality is that as time goes on there is increasingly less difference between it and Android, so even that isn’t a huge differentiator, at least not where it matters.

Don’t point out better screens, faster processors, and more memory as the places where the differences lie, either. To that I cry bullocks! Wait a few months and all of that changes. It’s not the speed of the guts that makes a device different, it’s how it’s designed to be used, and every one is designed to be used exactly the way the iPad is used.

About this time last year Microsoft, of all people, had a promising design for a tablet that was so markedly different from the iPad that it could have been a real contender.

MS Courier

The ill-fated MS Courier.
(Photo courtesy of Engadget)

The Courier offered a different and innovative way to use a tablet. The OS and the hardware was designed around the concept of a journal, and its dual screens and snazzy interface seemed to beg to be touched and played with. Would the Courier have worked? Who knows. Least of all Microsoft, who killed the idea before it got any real legs.

Who says one screen is better than two? How do we know that a stylus wouldn’t be a better tablet interface (if done right) than your finger?

The Courier was the last truly unique tablet design I’ve seen from any vendor that had any chance of being a real product and giving Apple some real creative competition.

I don’t care about the silly little “unique” features the Xoom or the Playbook has, the iPad has the capacity to do any and all of them with minor tweaks. At the end of the day, if you have one of those devices what you really have is a Motorola or Blackberry branded iPad.

The same is true for most phones. I don’t care what OS it runs, it’s what they get the OS to do that matters, and all these phone makers seem to want to do is be a better Apple than Apple.

Sony (again, of all people) showed an interesting watch a few years back that linked to other Sony devices to share data. You could control your music player or cellphone from the watch, accepting calls or listening to tunes through a Bluetooth headset. It was another interesting idea, this one became an actual product.

It’s something that Apple didn’t create, something that is pretty darn cool in its own right, even if it’s not selling like cold lemonade on a hot Summer day.

Here’s the thing; Apple does a great job of designing and setting trends, but not all of their design choices are great ones. The earbud is a classic example of what I consider to be horrible design, yet everyone, from top notch audio companies to knock-off factories deep in the heart of China pumped these things out like they were God’s gift to the human ear.

I just wish someone, somewhere would have the cojones big enough to back a design that has nothing to do with how Apple does it. That’s all.

Why is that so hard?