Yesterday, many of iOS developers left the WWDC keynote with their heads hanging due to Apple replicating their apps functionality in iOS. As wounded as they are, I have a gut feeling that they’re incidental casualties in a much bigger battle.
In the Apple developer word, there’s the term “Sherlocked” — it’s when you create an app, and the Apple rocks up and provides the same functionality baked in essentially destroying your version. It’s named after an event that happened with Mac OS 10.2, which shipped with Sherlock 3, killing off Karelia Watson, amidst claims that Apple copied the indie developer’s application.
Yesterday’s WWDC announcement of iOS 5 saw a mammoth rash of Sherlocking. Marco Arment from Instapaper tweeted a single word response, before writing a more balanced take on Safari’s Read Later. Camera+ was famously pulled from the App Store for using the volume key to take photos — so when Apple announced this functionality built in, it prompted some rather vocal developer responses. Indeed, it was a Sherlocking on a level not seen before. If you are a developer working on apps that are for Twitter, internet browsing, photography, photo editing, photo sharing, task management, or instant messaging, you’re probably pretty pissed right now. Even some hardware manufacturers are hurting. The New York Times has a pretty good list of individual apps that got hit this time round, and TUAW hits what was cribbed from jailbreak devs.
The funny thing? My gut tells me that most of these devs were caught in the crossfire, not specific targets of Apple’s ire or thievery. I think Apple’s chasing giants, and these guys are getting caught in the middle. In my mind, many of the new iOS features are clearly taken from and attacking the other major smartphone platforms out there. Apple is doing what they often do, taking existing technology and improving it in order to steal customers away from other platforms.
Windows Phone 7
Lets start with the smallest fish in the smartphone sea, Windows Phone 7. WP7 has some incredible features, and has arguably the best and most unified UI of any smartphone platform — but has been plagued by software and hardware issues throughout its short life. Apple has managed to pick up two prominent features from the platform, despite its small size. WP7 was built with deep, deep social networking integration, and Facebook feeds directly into your address book, and you can easily send media directly to the services. While the Facebook integration isn’t quite there, the new Twitter-heavy base of iOS looks mighty similar in concept. Your Twitter contacts can head to your address book, and now tweeting from your phone is easy as anything.
You know how you can now take photos from the lock screen with iOS 5, and use the volume control to grab an image? Another feature that Windows Phone 7 has had for some time — except they have a dedicated camera button. Microsoft even prominently demoed the feature in an early keynote. Check out how they do it at around 25 seconds into the video above.
Even though Android is clearly Apple’s biggest competitor, they weren’t the major target of Apple’s ire with iOS 5. Most of what I spotted yesterday was Apple taking notes on things Android had done well, and hopefully improving them. Swipe up to see a list of notifications? Oh yeah, that’s definitely an Android trick. It’s a useful one doubtless, but saying they didn’t look to Android for how to implement seems to be blind. Cloud based syncing has also been a reality for Android for a long time using Google’s services.
One place Apple looked at Android and is going to massively surpass them is through over-the-air updates. OTA updates are how many Android users get the newest version of their OS — except they’re huge files, and only released after both the handset manufacturer and the carrier have added their own layer of filth on top of the original. This has lead to some recent handsets stuck on old versions of Android, despite newer ones being available. Apple still has complete control of the OS update schedule, and with the advent of delta updates — just downloading the changed files instead of the whole thing — installing the newest version of iOS should be instant and painless.
BlackBerry is an ailing operating system, there’s no doubt about it — and Apple may just have landed a death blow with iMessage. For non-enterprise users still using their BB, the killer feature that keeps many of them there is BBM: BlackBerry Messenger. A free, universal IM system that allows you to instantly contact any other BlackBerry user anywhere. Sound familiar? At the height of BlackBerry’s popularity, it was a major feature, and meant that you could contact your friends without dropping cash on text messaging. There was even a rumor of BlackBerry porting the app to other platforms in order to retain some users. The only thing that BBM has right now that iMessage doesn’t is the ability to generate QR codes for trading contact details.
I’m willing to bet a bunch of BlackBerry users who stayed on the platform because there was nothing as widespread as BBM anywhere else are now looking at iOS pretty damn closely. Free text, video and picture messaging to any user around the world? That’s a big draw, and when the world’s most popular mobile OS offers it too, it’s probably time to jump ship.
Apple has clearly been keeping an eye on the competition, and is cribbing good ideas in order to remove in feature shortfalls that may prevent users from coming over to Apple. There are still plenty of things they could pick up — better Facebook integration, free turn-by-turn navigation, widgets and the like — but if nothing else, yesterday’s announcement shows that Apple is willing to see what the competition is doing better, and adapt. Like Steve Jobs famously quoted, “good artists copy, great artists steal.”