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The Sincerest Form of Flattery - Consolidation & the Touchscreen

The bigger issue is question two. It is indisputable that products across all sectors are becoming more and more indistinguishable and this is largely being fuelled by the rise of the touchscreen. In simple terms touchscreens allow other physical parts to be stripped away. Your hands become the mouse, touchpad and keyboard. The problem is it also strips away individuality and results in a common form factor: namely ever slimmer slabs that are 90 per cent screen.

Consequently phones, tablets and eventually all-in-one PCs are headed for a minimalist clone-like existence where similarity is inevitable and the smallest detail can result in oversensitive companies embarking on ferocious lawsuits. Apple's lawsuit against Samsung is a perfect example. It is furious about the corner curves on the Galaxy range! With convergence centred around the phone and compact cameras, video recorders and games consoles next in line to be swallowed by handsets the obsession with guarding every millimetre of popular designs is only going to get more heated.

It is a similar situation with software. Right now mobile software is being governed by something we all share: fingers, and what is deemed to be most finger friendly right now are grid designs. That will inevitably change as designs evolve, but today to be competitive and to appeal to what mainstream customers 'know' it means wasting no time, launching competitive products and dealing with the consequences down the line. Court hearings take years and if every product had to be cleared through the courts first we'd still be making calls by generating sparks. As accountants tally their figures the penalties for breaking patents are insignificant compared to not being in the running in the first place.

The flip side to all this is the death of real innovation. When the stakes are so high you don't take creative risks, you just follow the competition. Today's Android smartphones are all small variations of one another and Windows Phone handsets are even more identical. Even RIM and Nokia are (unsuccessfully) trying to shake off their iconic button designs and join the slabs with the likes of the Storm and C5.

As a result some of the most compelling products we see are prototypes that companies simply don't have the gumption to bring to market. Therefore the products that do dare to be different tend to come from companies with nothing to lose and little drive to see it through properly. Take the dual screen Kyocera Echo smartphone or Microsoft's wonderful looking Courier tablet. Kyocera's effort has been widely panned and should scare companies off trying to repeat the formula for some time. Likewise Microsoft's lack of presence in the tablet sector saw it try something radical, before canning it and falling into line with dull Windows 7 based slabs like the LG H1000B. It will be 2012 before Microsoft unveils a dedicated Windows tablet OS and who doubts it will look just like a port of Windows Phone?

Much is made of the speed at which the tech sector evolves. With a constant stream of opportunistic lawsuits and unrelenting convergence the worry is for how much longer?

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