Telling the head of industrial design at a major computer manufacturer that its machine looks a lot like someone else's is bound to elicit a defensive response, and that's exactly what happened with Hewlett-Packard in Shanghai today.
At an HP-led press event about industrial design there, Engadget reports that the company's vice president of industrial design, Stacy Wolff, was asked about similarities between HP's freshly-launched Envy Spectre XT Ultrabook (see CNET's first look here) and Apple's MacBook Air, and whether he was worried about HP getting sued by Apple as a result.
"I would go back to the TC1000 [Tablet PC] from about 10 years, and that's a tablet," Wolff replied. "I think if you look at the new Spectre XT, there are similarities in a way, not due to Apple but due to the way technologies developed. Apple may like to think that they own silver, but they don't."
"In no way did HP try to mimic Apple. In life there are a lot of similarities," he added.
Apple, of course, is in the middle of sweeping litigation with Samsung around the world, not just over software patents, but also for what it says are numerous design similarities between Samsung's smartphones and tablets and its own. Samsung sued Apple right back, though along the way it has made some concessions after Apple victories, including a redesign of its Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet that involved creating a special "N" version to be sold in markets where injunctions were placed on the original.
In a follow-up interview with Engadget, Wolff made the argument that HP was in a distinctly different position than Samsung because it was using Microsoft's Windows instead of Google's Android, an OS that late Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs considered stolen.
"I think the key thing is that [Samsung's] a different company and they service a different audience, they have a different OS. We're a Windows ecosystem and we're building a product that is basically genuine to HP," Wolff said, adding that form follows function.
Wolff instead pointed to the differences between the company's new notebook and Apple's MacBook Air, saying that the features that separate the two are easy to spot.
"Ours is rubber-coated at the bottom. We use magnesium; they didn't do that -- they use CNC aluminum. We did a brush pattern on our product; they didn't. We did a different kind of keyboard execution. We did audio as a component; they didn't," Wolff argued.
For similarities like the wedge shape, and keyboard, Wolff noted that the wedge is necessary given the mix of components, and that HP offered a black, Chiclet-style keyboard on a silver body long before Apple:
The funny thing is that we did that before [Apple] did, but no one gave us credit. It's one of those things. You go back a few years and you start to look at what we did during the Pavilion stages, a long time ago when we started to do that. Even the chiclet, right? In the mid-80s we did a chiclet keyboard, but did anybody give us credit? No.
The statements come at a time when PC manufacturers are pushing so-called Ultrabooks as their new flagship products. The devices, which hinge on Intel's latest generation of i-series chips, began as 11- or 13-inch notebooks with SSD storage and no optical drives, resulting in thinner enclosures and longer battery life. However some manufacturers have stretched the definition of the ultrabook (which should be noted is a marketing term), pushing out 14- and 15-inch models this year that more closely resemble traditional notebooks.