Computex vendors inspired by Apple

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Apple executives walking around the Computex show in Taipei this week should be feeling pretty good. Several products were on display from local Taiwanese vendors that, while perhaps not exact copies of Apple products, were surely inspired by them.

One of the highest-profile such products was a small desktop PC from AOpen Inc. The computer was on show at the booths of both AOpen and Intel Corp. as part of an Intel effort to promote the use of the Pentium M processor in small PCs, although the version on show was based on a Celeron M processor.

The machine was almost identical in size to Apple’s Mac mini, and had the same shape and a CD slot in the front. It’s the result of about two months of engineering and design work by the company, said Gavin Lin, a senior director with AOpen’s mainboard and platform business division. The company said it hopes to put the machine on sale in September this year.

Among the personal audio players on display, several devices bore a resemblance to Apple’s hit iPod products. Two of the closest, at least to an untrained eye, were Tekram Systems Co. Ltd.’s iPocket and Luxpro Corp.’s Tangent line of players.

Looking much like an iPod mini with the addition of four buttons under the display, the iPocket doesn’t contain any memory but has a slot on the base that accepts Secure Digital (SD), MultiMediaCard (MMC) and Memory Stick cards. It plays MP3, Windows Media Audio, WAV, ASF and AAC format audio files.

“You’re not from Apple are you?” asked Charlie Chen, a sales specialist at Tekram, when a reporter asked to take a photo of the iPocket. “Apple’s lawyers came to us at Cebit,” he said, referring to the German electronics fair that took place in March this year. “They said it’s a nice design but don’t try to sell it in the U.S.”

Tekram sells the iPocket in eastern Europe and parts of the Middle East, South America and Asia, but isn’t going to sell it in the U.S. or western Europe, Chen said.

The Luxpro Tangent players come in three models, two of which were shown for the first time at Computex. All three are small, thin and rectangular with rounded corners. The navigation controls are arranged in a circle on the front, with settings switches on the reverse. A cap covers the USB (Universal Serial Bus) connector.

Company representatives at Luxpro’s booth said they weren’t sure where the basic design idea for the players came from, but the comments of most people stopping to look over a five-minute period were that they looked quite similar to the iPod Shuffle.

The two new models both have OLED (organic light emitting diode) screens, which make them look less like Apple’s display-less Shuffle, but the resemblance is still there judging by the comments overheard.

The Shuffle’s clean design provided some inspiration for Jetway Information Co. Ltd.’s iVogue M2 portable music player, said Richard Terng, associate vice president of Asia-Pacific sales at the Taipei company.

“We tried to do something similar,” he said. The resulting product is roughly the same size and shape as the iPod Shuffle but has a rectangular control panel and a display. The device is compatible with MP3, Windows Media Audio and WAV files and is available in 256MB, 512MB or 1GB versions, said Terng.

(Sumner Lemon contributed to this story)

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