Apple copies a bunch of features from Android, calls it iOS5 (Updated)

iOS5 was announced today. In this article we run down the top 10 features of iOS5 and see how original and innovative they are compared to Apple's main competition: Android.
Written by Ed Burnette, Contributor

Today at WWDC 2011, Steve Jobs took the wraps off iOS5, the next major release of the operating system used by iPhones, iPod Touch, and iPads. According to Apple, iOS5 has over 200 new user features and 1500 new developer APIs. But how many of these are really new?

Apple is known for their innovation, and for suing other companies that copy (or as they put it, "steal") ideas from them. So we were curious to see how iOS5's features stacked up in the originality department. In particular, we looked at the 10 main user features highlighted during the keynote today and compared them to features in iOS's main competition, Android.

1. Notifications. In iOS5 notifications will appear at the top of your screen and you can drag the bar down to see all the notifications in one place.

Original? Definitely not. Android has had that since version 1.0. Recently they improved it in Android 3 so developers can make rich notifications that are more than just text and an image. So iOS5 notifications have caught up to Android 1.0 notifications. The only original part is integration of notifications into the lock screen. Some 3rd party apps provide that for Android but it's not built-in.

2. Newsstand. Now you can subscribe to magazines and newspapers and have updates downloaded in the background.

Original? So-so. Android relies on programs that are not part of the core operating system to view content, in order to allow 3rd parties to compete against each other. Android apps, including the Market, are still catching up on subscription and in-app purchases. But the OS has had background updates and sync for quite some time. The nice thing about the Android story is that the APIs for this are public.

3. Twitter. Apple has integrated Twitter into the operating system and its major applications. Whether you like it or not.

Original? Absolutely. Nobody else is stupid enough to do this.

Seriously, Android has these standard messages called "Intents" so that if your app wants to have a Share button it sends out an Intent indicating what it's trying to do. The OS will go out and find all the apps that can do Sharing and give the user a list of them to pick from. That can include Twitter, Facebook, SMS, GTalk, and whatever else you have installed. Even social media apps that weren't invented yet when the program was written can be supported.

iOS5 provides single sign-on for Twitter. Android does the same, but for any application. It lets the developer write an account manager for single sign-on for any service you can think of including Twitter, Google mail, Exchange, and more.

Continue reading: Browser tabs, wireless sync, and other "new" ideas >

What do you think? Join the conversation now.

4. Safari improvements. Safari now has browser tabs and a simplified reader view.

Original? Not really. Android 3's browser (as well as every desktop browser) has tabs already. Applications like Pulse, Instapaper, and Google Reader provide simplified readers.

5. Reminders. Get a notification at a certain time or location. For example get a reminder when you leave the conference building.

Original? Somewhat. Reminders based on times are not original (see Alarms and Calendars in Android). Reminders based on location have been done before in third party apps for Android, but it hasn't been as well integrated and packaged as in iOS5.

6. Camera improvements. There's a camera button on the lock screen, and you can use the volume up button to take a picture. iOS5 also adds easier contrast adjustments and simple edits.

Original? Yes and no. Some Android phones already have a dedicated shutter button so that's not new. But let's face it, the iPhone has a better camera app than base Android does. This change makes it even better. Second and third party camera apps fill the gap on Android to some extent but not completely.

7. Mail. Search mail, conversations, drag and drop addresses, indent, global dictionary, and rich text.

Original? Not where it counts. Google's GMail client on Android has had searching and conversations since the beginning. Other features like rich text are new to mobile in iOS5 but have long existed on desktops and web applications. The dictionary is something Android doesn't have (Kindle does) but I wonder how useful it will be.

8. PC Free. You no longer need a PC or Mac to set up or sync your iOS device.

Original? Hardly. You could do this with Android 3 years ago.

9. Game Center. See scores of your friend's friends, purchase and download games from Game Center, play turn based games.

Original? No. Third parties like OpenFeint and Zynga have been doing this for quite some time (on Android and iOS).

10. iMessage. Chat with your friends that have iOS5 without using your SMS minutes.

Original? Nope. Ever heard of Google Talk? AIM? And what's wrong with SMS anyway - it works on all phones (even dumb ones) not just iPhones, iPods and iPads.

Final thoughts After reading some of the comments in the talkback section (thanks!) I decided I needed to add a little context. In April, Apple sued Samsung, claiming its Android devices are copycats because they're rectangular and use icons. In October they sued Motorola claiming Motorola stole ideas such as multitouch. Last March they sued HTC for ideas like swipe-to-unlock. Steve Jobs wrote "We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours".

As one commenter put it, "every new feature is just going to be copied, improved upon, refined, and reused". Everybody borrows from everybody else. That I don't object to. Standing on the shoulders of giants, and all that. The part I object to is to call it "stealing" when the copying is done in one direction but then say it's perfectly OK when done in the reverse direction.

So who's "stealing" from whom now? Let us know what you think in the talkback section.

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