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The Source of Apple's New iOS, Messaging Features? Other Companies

By William Peacock, Esq. on June 04, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On Monday, Apple held its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), where it announced massive updates to its desktop and mobile operating systems. If it wasn't clear, we were impressed by the long list of new features, especially Continuity -- the seamless handoff between one's mobile devices and desktop or laptop.

But the entire time, a nagging thought kept popping up: we've seen this before. That's not a criticism, by the way -- only a stubborn fool would stick to "our way" when other companies outpace them on innovative features. And while Apple has come up with a ton of innovative ideas of its own (the Touch ID sensor, for example), there have been times where the company has refused to follow industry trends (the damn keyboard, screen sizes).

The company now seems to be embracing a middle ground: copy a few features, while hopefully, making them even better.

Adopted From Android

As someone who has switched back-and-forth between Android and Apple, there was always one thing that was missing on an iPhone: a good keyboard. Apple's own keyboard isn't bad, but it was missing a lot of things: swipe-based typing, predictive text, and the ability to install third-party keyboards. Android has had all of these features, in stock form, or from a third-party, since version 1.5. Apple will join the party with iOS 8.

Ars Technica has a list and visual comparisons of a ton of even more features pulled from Android, including actions on notifications, widgets, iCloud photo backups and drive-like storage, battery usage tracking by app, sharing between apps, and more. Each of these features, however, has Apple's own spin, such as confining widgets to the notification center.

Messages Mash-up

It wasn't just an operating system upgrade full of borrowed features: Apple dedicated much of their time to their Messages app, which received its own massive overhaul. The company began by noting that it was "the most frequently used app on iOS." It's popular, so how do they make it better? Per The Verge, the new app is a mash-up of third-party apps:

Like WhatsApp, Messages now lets you send a quick voice message instead of typing out a text. Like Snapchat, videos sent in Messages disappear unless you tap "Keep" to save them. Like Facebook Messenger, Messages lets you quickly add friends to a group message, and remove them just as easily. And the features keep coming. Like Path, you can now share your location with a friend, and like Moped, you can now view a list of all the photos you've shared inside a chat.

And The Verge makes another good point: if Apple's goal is to be the king of messaging, they have one huge problem: Messages is Apple-only, which means all of these neat features, which have the potential to replace third-party competitors, will mean nothing to the 80 percent or so of users who are on Android, Windows, and BlackBerry. (Compare their strategy with BlackBerry, which released BBM on all major platforms last year -- who is more likely to gain a larger user base?) It's a war that they cannot win in an Apple-only sandbox.

Convergence, Not Copying

The thing is, the wheel can only be invented once. Apple basically invented the modern touchscreen smartphone, and others copied their device. Then others added new features and Apple is following suit. Apple adds a touch sensor, now other companies are doing the same. Swype invented swipe-based typing and then Google added it to their built-in keyboard. Everyone borrows from everyone until every device is basically the same.

It's technological convergence. A DVD player, gaming console, and cable box become the Xbox One/PlayStation 4. A phone and a PDA become a smartphone. And Apple and Android borrow features from each other until the two are virtually indistinguishable.

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