There's more than one way to skin a Mac

HP's Spectre One and friends
The one at the back looks awfully familiar...

In The Emperor's New Clothes, a boy or girl finally says what everyone else is thinking - and in the case of HP's new Spectres, that role is filled by the inimitable darren_mccoy in the comments. "The one at the back looks an awful lot like an iMac," he says.

He's right. The HP Spectre One looks so like an iMac that if you ran past an Apple Store holding one, the geniuses would chase after you shouting "Stop! Thief!"

There are some crucial differences - it's got a touchscreen, the specs differ, the ports are in the base and there's no optical drive - but visually the resemblance between the Spectre One, its keyboard and its trackpad and those of Cupertino's finest are undeniable. As Darren says, it looks an awful lot like an iMac.

It's not just all-in-ones, either. As we discovered at IFA, there's a lot of new kit out there, and a lot of it looks an awful lot like Apple's kit. HP's Envy laptops and pretty much everybody's Ultrabooks look like MacBooks and MacBook Airs, smartphones look like iPhones, tablets look like iPads.

It's been going on for years, but it appears to be more prevalent than ever before.

It's all very, very dull - and it does us all a disservice.

Design matters

The problem with faux-Apple designs is that unless you do them perfectly - and by perfect, I mean legally actionable - then your kit falls into the uncanny valley: just as computer-generated characters make our brains uncomfortable when they look almost but not quite human, almost-Apples make you think "it's an iMac with a curved bit! It's a MacBook with a Windows key!" The designers' best efforts are wiped out by the similarities.

I'm no design expert, but once you get beyond the basic form following function stuff, surely gadget design should fall into one of two categories: design that delights, or design that disappears?

For the former I'm thinking Nokia and its luminous Lumias, or a set of Nautilus speakers, or Joseph Joseph's inspired and colourful cookware; for the latter I'm thinking my TV, my DVD player or any one of a million household items whose design is utterly unremarkable because you're not supposed to pay any attention to them.

Your examples will differ, I'm sure, but you know what I mean: there are "yay!" products and grey ones. Things that look like Apple things are neither.

I don't want to live in a world where all furniture looks like IKEA's, where all cars look like Audis and all shops sell the same clothes, and homogenised hardware makes me sad for the same reasons. The problem with Mac-a-likes is that they imply that there's only one way to do this, Apple's way, and I don't believe that that's the case.

Just because Apple stuff is really good doesn't mean other firms can't do better.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.