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"One of my "pet peeves" is patents about "appearance"."
You're right about this because because patents about appearance are redundant concepts. Trademark law more than adequately addresses this issue in a far more sane, understandable manner.
It's called Trade Dress.
Some products such as tablets are so minimal and basic that it's pretty hard to not look at least something like other tablets. To go as far as Apple wants to push the issue would actually cripple all competing products. That's not right. The Slate/Tablet form factor has been around for much longer than the iPad.
In such cases the packaging and logos are pretty much the only obvious differentiators.
Think about soda/soft drink cans/bottles. Many bottlers use the exact same containers from often times the same suppliers. The nature of this product dictates that the label is the only obvious differentiator.