iOS 10 and Android N are both a few short weeks away from release, and it's clear that Apple and Google have both been slapping more frosting on their mobile operating systems. But beneath that sweet superficial coating, the underlying platforms both feel old and stale.
"Here's a tweaked messaging app. Here's a tweak to how notifications are handled. Here's a tweak to the phone app. Here are some tweaks to the way we handle photos. Here's some more emojis. You like emojis, right?"
And yes, the above statements can be applied to both iOS 10 and Android N. Even the changes that Apple and Google are doing to their platforms can now be summed up as generic one-liners.
In fact, things have gone a step further and have now entered the stage where Apple and Google aren't just copying one another, but they're copying features from one another that the other company dropped from its platform years ago. For example, Apple has made widgets accessible from the lockscreen in iOS 10, which was a feature that Google pulled from Android a few years ago (presumably because people weren't using it).
There's also the endless cherry picking of features that were already available to users through OEM or third-party apps (for example, the split screen and picture-in-picture feature introduced in Android N and nothing new and both were available previously on the Samsung Note).
Hey guys, there's nothing really new about copying a feature that was already available. And most of the time, when these kinds of features are baked into the operating system, it usually has less functionality and is more restrictive than what was offered by the third-party app.
And did anyone else notice how much the new Messages app in iOS 10 looks like the Facebook Messenger app? I understand that people like to express themselves textually, but being able to emojify every word that has a corresponding emoji really wasn't up there on my list of wants. I'd have much preferred a method to back up messages when moving to a new device, or a Siri dictation system that actually works.
Or maybe a Messages app that was cross-platform, and let me talk to everyone, not just people in the Apple ecosystem.
But people love Facebook Messenger, so Messages now has to be a clone of it.
With all this copying, both Apple and Google seem to be admitting that the other company's vision of the future of mobile platforms has been right all along.
Another problem is that neither company seems to be willing to properly address their weak points. For example, Apple opening up Siri to third-party developers won't change the fact that Siri is seriously lagging behind Google Now/Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa in terms of functionality. Similarly, Android N does nothing to address the huge fragmentation problem that Android developers have to deal with, nor does it do anything to help get the new operating system out to existing Android users.
Both Apple and Google also seem to be expending a lot of effort trying to "fix" the problems associated with having notification panels whizzing across the display and piling up while they await user attention, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this flawed notification system paradigm has been around for years (this panel-based system was annoying me in Microsoft Outlook long before iOS and Android came on the scene), and that it's probably never going to get better. At least in iOS 10 users now get the ability to just delete all notifications with a single click - something Android users have had all along.
And yes, the irony of the fact that the best feature that both Google and Apple can give users to deal with notification overload is to offer an easy to way to delete the notifications en masse.
"But aren't all operating systems a bit stale?" I hear you ask. Why yes, yes they are. Windows 10 and MacOS Sierra both feel like they're trying very hard to convince you that they're new and exciting and different, but beyond a few new tricks, they're both essentially the same as their predecessors.
And part of the reason why things get stale is that people don't like or want too much change, and have in recent years gone on the offensive whenever they were given something new.
Microsoft, for example, has over the years tried to make some fundamental changes, such as removing the Start Menu from Windows 8, and by coming out with Windows RT, a new platform that cut adrift years of legacy code. But people didn't like the changes, so back came the Start Menu - completewith ads - and Windows RT died on the vine because no one seemed to have a clue how to market it, and consumers were confused by a "Windows" system that didn't run "Windows applications."
And it's also worth bearing in mind that throwing the old cake out and starting with a new cake every few years doesn't exactly work either. Microsoft has tried this approach several times with its mobile platform, and its 2 percent market share speaks volumes as to how well that worked out.
Maybe people just want more frosting, even though too much of it might not be good for them.
I think we're entering a phase where iOS and Android both feel "samey," with the differences being mostly ideological. The violent reaction that users had to changes in Windows will have made Apple and Google wary of doing anything that could upset their fandom, and Apple has the most to lose, what with weakening iPhone sales, and the fact that iOS 10 will more than likely be on over 80 percent of devices a year from now (Google will be lucky if Android N will be powering 10 percent of devices).
"Play it safe" is the name of the game.
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