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Tablets, copycats and Weird Al Yankovic

Samsung does a Ratner by proxy

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Something for the weekend, Sir? "They are not as cool." With these five words, Judge Colin Birss became Samsung's friend and tormentor in one. He had just found in the company's favour in its defence against Apple but ruined the moment for Samsung by hinting that the Galaxy Tab was, well, a bit crap compared to an iPad.

Apple iPad

Cool tablet

Birss effectively delivered the first public example of praise with faint damning. It was a bit like a judge finding you innocent of adultery because you’re too ugly to score. Worse for Samsung, Birss ‘did a Ratner’ by proxy. In those five words, he saved the company from a lawsuit and utterly trashed its product in the public perception. Who’s going to want to get a ‘not cool’ tablet for Christmas?

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Not a cool tablet

You can interpret the five words how you like, whether you feel Samsung is a wannabe rather than an inventor, or you think Apple's technological innovations have all the depth of a paddling pool. Personally, I think Samsung makes better TVs than computers, and it will be several more years before I forgive them for the U800, possibly the most unusable atrocity ever to claim the moniker of 'mobile phone'.

Things have come a long way since the dark days of Apple's epic lawsuit against Microsoft - it dragged on from 1988 to 1997 - which owed its longevity less to the merits of the case and more to the fact that the judges didn't understand this new-fangled cumpooter thang. It's probable that Windows 2.0 and the Macintosh OS looked the same to a computer virgin, but to those who actually use computers - usually virgins in a more conventional sense - the comparison was plainly ludicrous:

Windows 2.0
Mac OS System 7

Mac System 7 and Windows 2.0 - by any chance related?

It’s about time the IT industry faced up to the fact that everything they do is derivative. The trick is to determine the line between derivation and plagiarism. I could write a children's book about an orphan at a school for wizards and still be safe from litigation, but if I named the principal character ‘Patty Horror’ and the school ‘Bogfarts’, JK - Rowling, not the guy from Jamiroquai - would sue my arse off, and I’d deserve it.

Compare Apple’s current panic over the flood of tablets into the market to its tacit adoration at the end of the 1990s of all those grotesque third-party peripherals encased in translucent plastic in a blatant copycat attempt to sell pretty ordinary products on the back of the unusual design of the original iMac.

Agfa Snapscan 1212

Did anyone here own a minging scanner like this?

MacAlly fruit flavoured mouse

Or a stupid fruit-flavoured mouse?

Or a ghastly looking gadget like this that sits on the floor out of sight?

Translucent USB hub

Or even one of these hideous abominations?

Weird third-party iMac keyboard

I suspect that manufacturers quietly appreciate the copycats, and will even accept the potential loss of a few sales to begin with, because copycats make a market segment appear bigger and busier. After Star Wars reinvigorated public interest in sci-fi movies, the late 1970s and early 1980s saw a great deal of me too sci-fi releases of varying quality: for every Alien, Blade Runner and Close Encounters - the theatrical release, not the 'special' edition, natch - there was a Battlestar Galactica, Saturn 3 and Black Hole.

But this swell of copycats made it easier for George Lucas to raise money for a much better sequel - more, I reckon, than his successful but childish, camp and embarrassingly scripted original could have generated alone.

Not paying attention to details might also explain why I discovered the other day that I had bought an own-brand shampoo from Boots (pictured left) instead of the original brand I thought I was buying (right):

Copycat hair care products

On the other hand, it might simply be the case that companies no longer want to waste money on lawsuits that judges won’t understand. This would explain why Pinterest, itself derivative but visually refreshing and superbly implemented, is forced to put up with outrageous mimic Pinspire and Pinme.

Then you get the appalling copycats that give us a laugh but the original products a bad name. **LINK WARNING: DO NOT READ THE PANEL ON THE RIGHT**

But then, as Kurt Cobain observed about Weird Al Yankovic’s cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit, you know you’ve made it when someone copies you.

Weird Al is not cool but he’s no Galaxy Tab. ®

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He is currently working on a top-secret iPad development project. He could tell you about it but then he’d have to shoot you. Or he might just shoot you anyway. He sleeps with his gun. Seven-six-two millimetre. Full. Metal. Jacket.

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