Apple and the most sincere form of flattery

Apple plays catch up

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If imitation is really the most sincere form of flattery, consider Apple the Don Juan of the tech world after this year’s WWDC.

This week Apple announced a slew of new features that they’re bringing to the table with iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite. While all of the new features are welcome improvements, most of them are borrowed from other existing systems. Is the era of innovation at Apple over? Or are they simply playing catch up after a lengthy ride on an aging platform?

Let’s take a look at a bunch of the new features and tie the out to their origin.

Mac OS X

Feature Origin
Flat UI Design Everyone everywhere (Android and Windows)
Notification Center Widgets Android
Spotlight Search Bar Google
iCloud Drive Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive
Mail Drop Gmail

IOS 8

Feature Origin
Interactive Notifications Android
Notification Center Widgets Android
Lock Screen Actions Android
Spotlight Suggestions Android
Predictive Typing Android
3rd Party Keyboards Android
iMessage Groups, Tap To Talk, Tap Video What's App
iMessage Self Destruct Snapchat
Health Nike Fuel, etc.
Photo Optimization / Editing Google+
App Previews (videos) Google Play
App Intentions (app-to-app communication) Android
Homekit X10, Nest
Split Apps Windows 8

Note: If I’ve left out Windows Phone here it’s because I don’t have much experience with them to spot the parallels.

Notable Exceptions

Continuity

This is a great feature that lets you work on your iPad or iPhone, walk up to your desktop or laptop and transition the same work onto the desktop to continue working. It also adds very cool iPhone integration into your desk/laptop such as sending and receiving iMessages and even making phone calls and video calls.

Metal

A major advancement in 3D rendering and a replacement for OpenGL. Metal is designed to take full advantage of Apple’s A7 processor and they claim it will boost graphics performance dramatically, even on existing devices.

Swift

If you’re a developer, this was the most exciting thing to come out of WWDC this year. Like most non-iOS-specific developers, I loathe Objective-C. I wish I never knew it, I wish I could unknow it forever. Swift is an entirely new programming language for iOS/Mac OS development. While I’m not super pumped that Swift appears to be a hybrid of Lisp and Javascript, I’d gladly dump Objective-C for it in a heartbeat.

In Fairness

It was hard for me to ignore how much of what’s new for Apple is old for other platforms. This is a reversal of what’s been happening for years where everyone was copying Apple at every opportunity. While Apple might have copied many of these ideas from others, they carefully chose the best ideas to implement. It’s also likely that Apple will implement each with its own spin on them and probably improve each idea.

A lot has been made of the fact that Apple is laying the groundwork for something more interesting in the future. To me it feels more like catch up. For the past 6 years or so, Apple has been the premiere center for commodity tech innovation, so the expectations are always high. It still remains to be seen if Tim Cook has anywhere near the vision of Steve Jobs.

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