Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Copycat! 10 features iOS 5 borrows from others

By Rosa Golijan and Wilson Rothman
When Apple presented iOS 5 — the latest version of its mobile operating system — on Monday, we couldn't help but notice that many of the features being shown off sounded strangely familiar. It seems that Apple's flattering several other platforms and apps by generously imitating them.
Don't believe it? Let's look at a few iOS 5 features and consider why they feel familiar.
Notifications - The pull-down notification pane found in iOS 5 is a great deal like the one in the Android OS. It is quite a bit more customizable — you can select the order of alerts by type or time and whether they even appear in the pane — but it's definitely very familiar and gave us a head-twisting case of deja vu.
Safari's Reader - The Reader feature in Safari makes sites easier on the eyes and eliminates a lot of distracting elements from a page so that you can read in peace. It's quite similar to what is offered by a popular app called Readability.
Tabbed browsing - Ok, ok. It's a bit of a huge stretch to claim that Apple's imitating some third party by including tabbed browsing in the mobile version of the Safari browser, but it is imitating something it offers in the desktop version of its own browser. 
Reading List - Don't have time to finish reading an article or site? No worries, you can mark it for later reading and have it sync to any of your iOS or Mac devices. Just like you could with the Instapaper app!
iMessage - It's BlackBerry Messenger, but for iOS. It's also WhatsApp, GroupMe, and a combination of other apps which offer group messaging, inbox syncing, read receipts, and similar features.
Volume button as shutter button - This one's a bit awkward. Camera+, a popular photo app, had an easter egg — a secret or hidden function — which allowed iPhone users to snap photos by pressing a volume button instead of tapping their devices' screens. As soon as Apple got wind of that feature though, it banned the app for overriding the standard volume button controls. (The app was readmitted to the App Store once the easter egg was removed.) Now we've got the very same feature available courtesy of Apple. Oops.
Instant camera button - Taking pictures instantly from a locked device — without having to rush to enter a passcode — is something you can do on Windows Phones, a fact we were reminded of by @bdattilo (thanks!).
Photo retouching - There are a handful of photo retouching tasks which can now be done directly through the Camera app — such as digital zoom, cropping, and such. These features greatly resemble those offered by the Camera+ app as well as Photoshop and others.
Reminders - Remember the Milk is a popular to-do list system and app. And now you've got something incredibly similar to it built straight into iOS.
iCloud - We doubt that Apple genuinely took inspiration for iCloud from services such as Dropbox, but we were still struck by the similar feature offering such as the ability to sync documents and images.
Those are just some of the similarities which came to mind as we started familiarizing ourselves with iOS 5. There are likely to be more, but these are enough to prove our point. Which is ... that good operating systems borrow, great operating systems steal.
We kid. It's no skin off our delicate backs if Apple steals, borrows, or kidnaps ideas from other platforms or apps. The process helps iOS grow and we've watched plenty of carriers, developers, and hardware makers steal from each other and Apple already anyway. (There's a massive web of lawsuits happening right now about this stuff, and it's only going to get worse.)
As far as we're concerned, it's not really a user problem. Like iLife on the Mac, all of this "sincere flattery" will likely benefit us.

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