WWDC: …Wait, That Looks Familiar!

With contributions from my colleague James Cull

Yesterday I followed the Apple WorldWide Developers Conference. Like so many other thousands of people I was interested in seeing the new software and hardware Apple is so famous for. Though there was no new hardware, there was new software by the bucketload.

Besides OSX Lion and iCloud the anticipated iOS 5.0 was announced and I was expecting some fantastic new features to be rolled out. While many of these features are new and distinctive to Apple, some of them were very familiar to us Android users — and we took these for granted on our phones without paying them the slightest bit of attention.

Silent Applause for Android?

In order for Apple to use ideas which have been done on other devices beforehand, they must surely think and acknowledge them as good? If they didn’t, they would not be replicated in iOS.

Perhaps sharing some common features is a headstart to Android and iOS being a bit friendlier to each other?

Notification Center

One of the first things to be announced for iOS was the ‘Notification Center’. This was without a doubt the most ‘cloned’ feature Apple showed off at WWDC. The action of pulling down from the top is identical to Android, as are some basics of the layout on some Android phones. Besides colour the only clear difference was no ‘Clear’ button sticking out in the corner.

The iOS5 Notification Center

What Apple have done differently, is allow users to tap on a top-of-screen notification to take you straight into the application. I speak only from experience with HTC phones, but I must drag down the notification bar to actually switch into the related application. The idea of notifcations at the top of the screen was definitely Android’s, though. Stocks and Weather widgets are none too special either; third party applications on Android have been doing those for ages.

Twitter Integration

This is something I liked; building Twitter support right into iOS allows developers to access a user’s Twitter info (like their username, avatar, and past Tweets) to use in their own apps. This isn’t copying Android, it is new and different! Whilst some applications on Android do this (HTC Sense’s Twitter/Contact merger), it is not a core feature to be drawn upon by third party applications (which it is in iOS 5).

Android does all forms of sharing through one method: the familiar ‘Share’ button which then asks which application you want to use (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, …) to distribute your find. iOS 5 users can share things directly from other apps too, now — but only via Twitter.

Over the Air updates

Android has been updating OTA for a long time. It is great that Apple have taken it on, especially with Delta updates (not a whole new system, so no big downloads). Android definitely proved how successful it can be, and the success of their competitors seems to have finally convinced Apple to remove the computer when upgrading, which brings me to…

PC Free

Android also had this from Day 1. Steve Jobs announced that some of their customers are in countries where having a personal computer in their home is not as commonplace as homes in the United States and Europe.

Though not stated outright, I am guessing the purpose of PC Free is to boost sales in these countries, since the list of potential buyers would grow dramatically. When I got my Wildfire, I took it out the box, turned it on, entered my details and job done. I never needed a PC at all, and suppose I never really have since then either.

Reminders

Of course, Android users have been able to set alerts to go off at specific times using the Alarm and Calendar apps. But what I really liked about the Reminders feature was the term “Geofencing”. It is a new and fantastic idea which has only been used for obscure purposes like keeping boats away from shipping lanes. I look forward to seeing its future uses, but I doubt regular GPS checks will do much good for the iPhone’s already troubled battery life. Android doesn’t have the ability to set alerts based on location, but plenty of third party Android apps do, like Tasker and Don’t Miss Your Stop.

Widgets on the Lock Screen

Lockscreen Widgets are nothing new, Android has this built in with the ability for third party applications to build upon it. Even something as simple as the pause and skip buttons for the music player are ‘Lockscreen Widgets’.

Camera

Using the volume button to take pictures has caused something of a minor scandal towards Apple. The word is that a developer submitted this same feature in one of his photo-taking applications. The application was originally approved and many people used it. Some time later people wondered why the application had disappeared from the App Store. Rumour is that Apple removed the application for being too confusing to users. Whether this is true, or Apple had already got this planned for iOS 5 when the application was released, we don’t know. As for using a button to take a photo, need I say more?

Launching from the lockscreen is a borrowed feature too. Though currently not available on any stock ROMs that I know of, the Cyanogenmod team have built this in for quite a while. Besides, it was Microsoft’s idea in the mainstream; Windows Phone 7 had this since Day 1.

To my knowledge, the set-focus and grid lines touch-inputs are are a newish design, which are a great idea, but that is about all that is ‘new’ for the camera.

Photo Editing

Both Android and iOS have had applications to do this for ages and with far more features, all Apple have done is take some ideas and repackage them as an ‘included feature’. I feel sorry for the developers of photo-modifying applications, they must be feeling pretty sore towards Apple right now. Still, that’s progress.

iMessage

Currently being most likened to Blackberry Messenger, iMessage is also easily comparable to Google Talk for Android. Though iMessage is far more elaborate in graphics, you can’t help but feel there was inspiration from Blackberry and Android, perhaps even WhatsApp?.

Apple have once again tried to push an existing product for their own users (look at Firewire and Thunderbolt). They were (and are) designed to replace USB 3 and hope it will take over. iMessage will be the same.

Couldn’t they have just rolled out iChat or something instead? Would have been far more preferable, OSX devices already have it too!

Tabbed Browsing

HoneyComb got it a few months ago for Android’s built-in browser. Due to iOS’s development time it is highly unlikely they ‘copied’ Android. They were just too late and announced after Android. The idea was probably conceived at the same time, plus other third party applications for both Apple and Android have been rocking tabs for a long time. Take Opera or Dolphin as examples.

iCloud

I have been asking myself, how will iCloud impact on data allowance contracts with iPhone providers? Apple were talking about synchronising up to 1000 photos.

Doing the maths (using higher quality photos) that is about 1000 x 512kB, which equals 512000 kBs, so 512MB. Some providers have a data cap at this level! So if you regularly take photos or record videos, plus purchase and transfer iTunes music, you will start to be cutting it awfully close, especially in the first month of iOS 5 ownership. [Ed: Presumably it’ll be possible to do this over WiFi, too. I mean, that’s how I sync all my photos ;)]

Will the iCloud be too much for some of the smaller iPhone data contracts?

Some providers offer over 1GB and up to a generous 3GB, however the industry standard is 512MB at the moment. It will be interesting to see how that pans out.

This may be damaging to battery life also; sending and receiving documents is not so bad, but photos?

Conclusion

Apple rarely comes out with anything truly brand new or unique (OK, the iPhone was an exception to this) but they are very good at marketing — specifically, making people believe that they came out with it first. Yesterday, all the Apple fans (the blind ones anyway) came out of their caves marvelling at these ‘new’ features, unaware that other phones their friends use have had these features for a long time.

Choosing Android was a smart decision, you got in there first! Look at the features Apple unveiled yesterday which have been at your fingertips for so long already. Sure, Apple put their aesthetic touch and flair to it all, which is very nice! However it doesn’t disguise those features we have come to love on Android, and we spotted them quickly.

What do you think? Have Apple borrowed Android ideas for iOS 5, or just decided it is time to implement them themselves? Leave your comments below, ask questions too, I try to get back to as many as I can.

As @martinvars said on Twitter (referring to iOS 5’s ‘Read It Later’ and the popular Instapaper service):

When Google and MSFT like a start up they buy it. When Apple likes a start up they copy it. Instapaper.

Martin Varsavsky sums it up.

It’s probably a head-to-head race with Apple and Android, now more than ever before. Maybe Ice Cream Sandwich will draw on some ideas from iOS 5, who knows? We shall have to wait and see!


  • Connor Turnbull

    No lockscreen widgets in iOS 5

    • http://michaeljameswilliams.com/ Michael James Williams

      Lockscreen camera button, though.

      • Connor Turnbull

        Yeah, but that’s not really a widget is it. A widget on a mobile phone has to really be somehow dynamic.

  • http://fewkesy.co.uk Andrew Fewkes

    You’ve severely underestimated the iCloud Sam. The storage may be less than 512MB, or it could be more. It depends on how much the user chooses to interact with this service. Not only will the ‘Photo stream’ (which contains up to 1000 photos) use this service, but the backup function of the device will as well (assuming you go for the cable-free set up).

    One thing you can’t fail to overlook is iCloud is essentially only automatic syncing across devices. I am currently using iOS 5 as a developer and this type of syncing is an absolute treat.

    You claim that a lot of these features have already been implemented by other companies, and to some extent they have, but you don’t know when Apple decided to use these idead. It’s a long process from design through to implementation through to public release.

    iOS 5 aside, I did enjoy the little customised android at the top.

    • http://samcater.com Sam Cater

      Hey Andy

      I’m not having a big pop at Apple really. The overall aim of this post was to expose what has been done before. Trying to remove the OMGSHINYNEW.

      iCloud is new and a good idea. I should have made my approval clearer in the post. However my concern was mobile data allowance (some people still don’t have WiFi, think of the PC Free target countries), and regular data syncs would surely eat up battery.

    • http://casabona.org/ Joe Casabona

      In regards to the development process, the first Android device launched in 2008- 3 years ago. There is no denying that Apple has “borrowed” at least some of these features from Android.

      It’s a real testament to competition actually. I sincerely doubt Apple would have rolled out some of these features without Android.

  • João Luís

    The notification center is CLEARLY copied from Android. However, I still prefer Android’s, because you can see all your notifications from any app, just looking to the status bar.

    • http://samcater.com Sam Cater

      Very good point!

  • http://everythingiconia.blogspot.com kwparker

    Ahem. While being an avid Android user, I only use it on my new Iconia Tab now. I had an original Droid that I loved, but battery life was so short I quickly got sick of it. When Verizon sent me an email offering me a deal on the newly released iPhone, I reluctantly gave in and got one.

    I missed many of the Android features, but the battery life on the iPhone is easily 3 times longer than the Droid’s was. In fact, the only way I can kill the iPhone battery before the end of the day is if I get bored and play Angry Birds too long. It regularly goes for two days on one charge. I am looking forward to iOS 5.

    So, basically what I am saying is your fears that the cloud syncing is going to kill the ‘already troubled battery life’ of the iPhone is nonsense, especially if done over WiFi. Also, what carriers regularly limit data to 512 meg? I have unlmited (for now) data for $30 a month on Verizon. Even when it is ‘capped, it will still be at least 3 gig for the same price.

    So I am glad many of the Android features are coming to the iPhone. I don’t consider it copying Android, though, just trying to ‘Keep up with the Jones’.

    Don’t you think it is about time the Android vs. iOS BS came to an end? There are many many people these days that own and enjoy both. If you have to start wars over devices, why not just keep it within your chosen ecosystem? Like, HTC vs. Motorola or Samsung. There is plenty there to flame about and generate page hits.

    It’s time to embrace our choices and present the facts without trying to start trouble. But I think you already know that.

    • http://samcater.com Sam Cater

      No, and the UK has data caps.

      • Connor Turnbull

        Not all of the UK :) I have a Pay As You Go iPhone and I top-up £15 for unlimited data, 300 mins and 3,000 texts from Three.

        • http://samcater.com Sam Cater

          Yeah but you just win on that front Connor :)

        • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

          Ah, that’s very similar to my plan here in Thailand. Though I use voice on my ancient phone, and data on my iPad. The only problem with the iPhone is that unsubsidized ones are so expensive. It’s a tad hard to pay more for an iPhone than an iPad 😉

          So, my solution is to carry my existing phone and an iPod touch (to add the “smart” part to my otherwise rather dumb phone), and hope I find WiFi. At least I can still keep up my Instapaper + Kindle reading 😉

          (sidenote: Where are the Android iPod Touch competitors? It’s amazing to me there aren’t any yet. Unsubsidized phones are too high to buy every one for testing!)

  • Connor Turnbull

    You have to look at this in the wider scheme of things. Any company copies stuff from many places (ahem *cough* http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2011/jan/24/android-oracle-copyright-further *cough*) and i’m sure Apple knew that Android owners would be like: OMGTHEYCOPIEDOURTHANG! However, we should be happy that the loved features of Android are joining other platforms and making more users happy with their devices, whether they be iOS, WP7, Android or whatever.

    • http://samcater.com Sam Cater

      Good words!

  • http://michaeljameswilliams.com/ Michael James Williams

    Personally, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the tech companies to follow each other’s leads. In fact, I think it’s great!

    But this is Apple. Apple who patented — to some extent — Slide To Lock, Pinch To Zoom, and Scrolling Vertically When You Accidentally Swipe A Little Diagonally By Mistake.

    Apple are great at taking ideas and reinventing them in beautiful ways other people didn’t think of, then reaping the rewards — the iPod, iPhone, and iPad were by no means the first MP3 player, mobile phone, or tablet; and copy-and-paste definitely wasn’t a brand new idea when iPhone did it, it just hadn’t been done so well on a phone before. Often their execution is so brilliant that users believe that Apple invented the concept in the first place.

    But now we’re seeing Apple take a whole bunch of ideas that other people did first, and then try to present them as new and revolutionary without actually changing them that much. That’s the issue here.

  • http://www.keithsmileyphoto.com/ Keith

    Most of these concepts are so basic saying that Apple copied them is like saying they copied the glossy screen from Samsung. Except notification center, that one they stole.

  • James

    Its not the copying thing, its the OMGSHINYNEWWEROCKEVERYONEELSESUCKS!!

    When android rolls out a new feature, they go “Hey, check, something cool”
    Apple on the other hand makes a massive press pack, with shiny actors on clean white background and cheesy grins saying stuff like “We completely rethought the computing genre” “We created something so amazingly new and your just going to love it”. Everything is new, revolutionary, shiny, and you better love it or its off to our fascist state’s shiny white gas chambers.

    Everything is clean prepackaged advertising. Its just too much. Come on, even “PC Free” is a targeted statement.

    So, apple, you copied it all (yes, all of it, if its not copied from appStore apps, then its from the jailbreak community or android), we dont care, we’ll use it, just tone down the arrogance! please! for the love of all things good and pure (pun intended)

    Android has overweight developers show up in tshirts with red patches in their hair.

    I love apple’s products but cant they just tone down the self love just a little?

    ok, end of rant. phew, good to get that off the chest.

    • http://michaeljameswilliams.com/ Michael James Williams

      +1 😉

    • http://samcater.com Sam Cater

      +2!!

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