Imitation, it is said, is the sincerest form of flattery. That's a nice way of putting it - in other quarters, copying someone else's ideas is referred to less flatteringly as plagiarism, a rip-off, a counterfeit or a fake. Nonetheless, it appears there's no shame in technology product development circles: when someone comes up with a good idea, someone, somewhere always tries producing their own version of it.
Take Philips' latest pocket shuffle-style MP3 player, the GoGear SA2840. Instead of using the tried and tested five-way d-pad approach to the controls, it uses a system very similar to the iRiver Lplayer I reviewed only just last week. This involves the screen itself becoming a four-way rocker switch. You click the right and left edges of the player to skip back and forth through tracks, and the top and bottom edges of the screen to navigate up and down through lists of tracks and options.
As with the iRiver, this is a good idea for a number of reasons. The first is that it's a very easy system to get used to - once you've cottoned on to the idea that you can press the screen to control the player, there's no looking back. The system employed here isn't quite as elegant and intuitive as the one on the Lplayer, however - there are more additional buttons around the edges of the player - not just volume, on/off and hold, but also dedicated play/pause, back and record buttons as well.
This means you have to think before you click a bit more than you do with iRiver's system, and the system proves much more awkward to use too. It's fine while navigating lists or skipping tracks, but as soon as you want to do anything else - change volume, browse the music library or change settings - you have to move your fingers around to the buttons littering the edges. And that's not ideal.
The second reason that the clickable screen is such a fine concept is that it allows the manufacturer to make the most of the space available, and on a small player such as the GoGear SA2840 that's a crucial factor. It should allow the screen to occupy most of the front face of the player keeping it legible yet the rest of the device small. Alas, the SA2840 manages to bypass this singular benefit.