HP Says BlackBerry PlayBook Imitates webOS, RIM Responds

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There's no denying it. RIM's first tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, looks pretty darn similar to HP's TouchPad. Yes, the PlayBook has a smaller 7-inch screen, compared to 9.7 inches for HP's slate. But the BlackBerry Tablet operating system (powered by QNX) certainly looks as if RIM may have taken a page out of the webOS (ahem) playbook. Both tablets render open programs as cards that you can easily swipe through for multitasking, and you can close apps using both OSes by swiping them off the screen. To be fair, though, RIM goes further with gestures in the PlayBook than HP does with its tablet.

Consumers might not care about these similarities, but what about HP? We asked them to comment, and as you might expect HP is flattered. We also reached out to RIM to get their perspective. Check it out below and let us know what you think.

HP on the BlackBerry PlayBook. Jon Oakes, director of product marketing, TouchPad

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.

RIM's response. Jeff McDowell, senior vice president for business and platform marketing

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.

So what do you think? Sound off in the poll below or in the comments.

[polldaddy poll=4641484]

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
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  • Felix Says:

    This is why 30 years back, Apple computer's technology was said to be "...ahead of their time."

  • Guiseppi Says:

    Holy frap! And I bet that 30 years ago, QNX had the swipe gestures AND multitasking elements already in place... RUNNING OFF A FLOPPY!

    So there, that proves logically that HP copied QNX.


  • nhavar Says:

    Loads of misinformation around here.
    * QNX was first released in 1982.
    * QNX has undergone a great many transformations over the years and may have picked up cues from many operating systems UIs (including Apple). Does that mean they are copying Apple directly - not necessarily. But certain standards do emerge over time (e.g. windowed apps with an easy method of closure = x in the corner)
    * QNX strong suit has never been it's UI but its underlying kernel code and small footprint (run embedded or from a floppy).
    * Portions of QNX were open sourced in 2007.
    * RIM bought QNX in April 2010 and close sourced it.
    * I can't find any reference to QNX using the card metaphor or the swipe up prior to RIM's purchase of QNX. Could it have been a secret behind the scenes new property? Sure. Could it be parallel development? Sure. Palm released the Pre in June of 2009, which means that webOS was probably started in 2006/2007. But it would likely mean that sometime between 2007 and 2009 QNX and Palm devised exactly the same method for window management (cards + swipe to close + dedicated gesture area) Which seems somewhat unlikely. In fact we didn't have any real information on PlayBook until what, September of 2010. Well over a year of having webOS in the market and well over when they demoed the card/swipe/gesture concepts.
    * webOS, BB, and Android's web browsers ARE NOT COPIES of Safari. Safari is built on an open source engine called WebKit. webOS, BB, and Android likewise use the same open source engine, as do a great many other applications. Each adds their own unique features to that engine.

  • John Dean Says:

    Where can I buy these magical tablets today ?

    These guys are all just blowing hot air...

    C'mon release, let's really see how far behind you really are on UX & battery life.

  • Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    They both copied iPhone and iPad and Mac OS X. The form factor, the architecture, the multitouch are all from Apple. The "cards" are like Apple's CoverFlow. WebOS was not even started until after iPhone shipped, and most of the people who made WebOS are ex-Apple, including the Palm chief. QNX is a copy of Mac OS X. Both of these devices not only use Apple's Web browser, they use it to draw their entire interfaces. The flattery here is all Apple's.

    And by the way, neither PlayBook or TouchPad have even shipped. They have zero users. So if HP is feeling flattered they should feel sheepish. They ship 100% Windows boxes right now. RIM has barely graduated beyond email. They shipped their first real browser in 2010, on hardware that was 2 years out of date.

    IF one or both of these devices even ship, then we can continue this discussion. Good luck to both. Both look much more promising than Android tablets, although one of those has actually shipped. Good luck to user zero of both of these devices, whoever he or she may be, on whatever future date that they might get their device.

    Less talk, more ship.

  • Keith Moon Says:

    This is hillarious! HP should have checked their facts. QNX was first released in 1981. Yes 30 years ago... while Linus was still wetting his bed. Unless there is a time machine involved, the only logical conclusion is that HP copied QNX!

  • loocas Says:

    Let's clear up some misinformation here...

    Palm's webOS was introduced to the world in January 2009 to critical acclaim. Source: http://bit.ly/gJOXWH

    However, poor hardware derailed webOS and Palm found itself in trouble in 2010. HP then acquired Palm in April 2010. Source: http://bit.ly/ga1Ii7

    Thus, we have HP webOS. The OS that RIM is showing on their Playbook is from the acquisition of QNX, also in April 2010. Source: http://bit.ly/fdE8pu

    When the interface for the new QNX-built OS for RIM's Playbook was created we don't know. But, we do know that Palm's webOS was around at least a year prior so the case does not look good for RIM. On top of that, the "gesture area" that's outside of the visible display area is a uniquely webOS hallmark.

    It's not difficult to make a case that RIM's new OS "borrowed" heavily from webOS. To say that "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." is pretty disingenuous. There are other ways of showing multiple apps open at once on a small screen. RIM chose the exact method of display and the exact method of ending an app that webOS pioneered.

  • Techy Says:

    "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."

    Theres a difference, with sciecne it's all hard fact, you can't alter fact, but with interface is opioion, theres a million and one possibilties to alter opinion. It like being a music writer, just because someone like one music, doesn't mean they won't like others.

  • SweatStudio Says:

    JoeyHoey is correct. Rimm seems to be copying Palm/HP. I have a near 2 years old WebOS Palm Pre. Also, to make it even more ironic. Take a closer look at the Palm Pre specs, then the Blackberry Torch specs. Look at the design. Now look at the operating system functionality of the HP TouchPad and the Blackberry Playbook. Hmmm...??

  • Brians Says:

    I hope HP gets their patent registered for their card interface, but then will it really matter?

    HP has probably 10,000 patents to map against Microsoft's 30,000 patents and RIM's 1,000 (no clue how many they really have). I guess if anyone gets bored, they can pull their wares out of the closet, file suit, and claim patent infringement just to complicate development.

    Should HP do this, YOU SURE BETCHA!!! Mobile will become a 30 billion dollar business in the next 2 or 3 years and R&D should either create something new or pay for the rights to use something they did not invent....just like Microsoft did earlier in the year buying rights to old Palm OS patents. Sorli...

  • Dave Barnes Says:

    And, SteveJ says: "who's your daddy?"

  • Joey Hoey Says:

    By the way. Just wanted to add that HP through Palm has a patent applucation on the card gesture interface. Just in case there are doubters... U.S. Patent Application No. 12/416,279

  • Joey Hoey Says:

    You guys have it wrong. Rim copied webOS which was unveiled way way way back in January 2009 at the CES on the Palm Pre. The card interface, the gestures all existed on the Palm devices and in fact HP has released 5 devices with this interface since 2009. Rim's Playbook has yet to be delivered to a single customer. But millions are already using webOS on their phones.

    People have been hoping HP would deliver a tablet with webOS. Rim is the copycat here. They copied the cards, how you swipe them up and sideways, and everything else. The only thing is that when watching demos, you can see which team got it right - in this case, it"s the people who created the whole interface - HP Palm.

    People who say otherwise have no clue about what they"re talking about. Rim is the clear copycat.

  • Markus Says:


    That would be true if the WebOS architecture that the Touchpad is based on wasn't more than a year old before the PlayBook was anounced.

    Whether or not it's a copy, who knows, but HP/Palm where earlier in any case.

  • Lola Says:


    You are correct...

  • PaloAltoWorldView Says:

    The PlayBook was introduced on September 27, 2010. The HP tablet was introduced on February 9, 2011. That means HP copied RIM, not the other way around.

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