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.


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’.


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.


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.


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?


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!