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iOS 7 borrows heavily from its competition, but should we care?

Apple's latest iOS 7 was finally announced yesterday. Looking at the OS, we can't help but feel like we've seen many of these features somewhere before. Apple's iOS 7 draws inspiration from many rival platforms, but should we care?
June 11, 2013
iOS 7 Design

If you were online at all yesterday, you probably heard at least a little bit about Apple’s latest iOS 7. The new UI is completely redesigned and transforms the aging platform into something modern and fresh. At the same time, it also looks very familiar.

Some of this is because at it’s heart it is still iOS, but some of the familiarity also comes from features that Apple has swiped from the competition.

Immediately we are seeing mixed opinions about iOS 7, and not just from the Apple crowd. There are Android enthusiasts that are applauding the redesign, and there are folks that are outraged by Apple “borrowing” features from the competition.

The reality is that there is nothing new under the sun. So why are there so many folks deeply insulted or angered by the features that Apple has cherry-picked from its rivals?

We’ll get into that shortly, but let’s start with a look at some of the features that obviously drew inspiration from other platforms.

These features look familiar…

The Lock Screen

The iOS 7 lockscreen is dramatically different from prior versions of iOS and even brings the Notification Center right to the lock screen, something that we’ve seen with Android for a long while now.

Even the whole design, background image, and text seem to take heavy cues from Android’s lockscreen. I will, however, give Apple credit for its “massive innovation” of making the notification bar translucent – that’s a nice touch.

Apple’s Back “Button”

While Android has always had a back button, iOS users haven’t had this same luxury. This all changes starting with iOS 7, which lets you swipe your finger from the left edge of the screen to go to the previous screen.

This isn’t a “back button” in the traditional sense, but it works the same. If you are thinking you’ve heard of this before, you have, BB10 offers the same kind of swipe functionality.

Multi-tasking in iOS 7

From WebOS to Android, and even Windows Phone – just about every mobile operating system offered a better multi-tasking experience than what was found in Apple’s iOS, up until now.

This time around, iOS 7 gets a card-style UI that shows a full preview of apps that are currently running. A similar feature exists in Android, of course. The new multi-tasking interface also heavily resembles the multi-tasking in WebOS.

Automatic Updates

One of the more painful aspects of iOS is updating apps.

Unlike Android, there is no automatic updates, and instead you have to manually keep track and go into the App Store for said updates. This is finally changing with iOS 7 – a feature that has been on Android devices for quite some time.

iOS 7 Notification Center

Control Center

Starting in iOS 7, Apple is introducing a Control Center. This new center has settings for things like Bluetooth, Airplane Mode and a screen rotation all in one convenient place.

Sound familiar? TouchWiz and other Android custom skins have had this forever now, and since Jelly Bean, so has stock Android.

We could go on all day…

This is far from a complete list of features that have made their way onto iOS 7 coming from other operating systems. That’s not even mentioning features that Apple borrowed from 3rd party apps or even from the Apple jailbreak scene. You get the point though.

Apple is not afraid to copy features from other operating systems and apps and then bring them over to their own products. Does it really matter though? Yes and no.

iOS 7

Apple: do what I say, not what I do

The reason I listed out some of the key features inspired from other operating systems wasn’t to say that iOS 7 was a complete copy-cat of the competition. It wasn’t even to point out that “Android has already done it”.

The real takeaway is that innovation isn’t just about creating new ideas. It is also about taking old ideas and turning them into something that is your own. Android has also done this with features it has borrowed over the years from Palm OS, Web OS, Windows Mobile and even iOS.

While much of what Apple introduced with iOS 7 wasn’t new, it does seem to feel distinctly Apple when compared to previous implementations. Did Apple do these features better? Apple fans will probably say yes, Android (and other platform) fans will likely say no. The answer is really one of opinion.

The big question is whether it is okay for Apple to borrow features in the first place.

Personally, I think that competition should be allowed to build upon existing ideas, as long as they bring something new to the table to set it apart from what’s already out there.

The problem is that Apple has gone to great lengths to stomp on competitors for doing the same thing, while also claiming its own ideas are brand new innovations. The most notable example is its long, drawn-out war with Samsung, but that’s far from the only instance where Apple used litigation to discourage competitors from “borrowing” their ideas.

Most of the folks up-in-arms over Apple’s iOS 7 aren’t necessarily mad at Apple taking ideas from existing apps and operating systems.

While I obviously can’t speak for everyone, I would wager that many of these individuals are mad because Apple patents everything in sight and then sues the hell out of its rivals for something as vague as rounded corners or sliding to unlock. Yet after all of this, they still have the gall to turn around and steal from these same rivals.

There are those that will instantly speak up saying, “Yah, but the features that Apple are borrowing aren’t patented. Apple’s features are”. That’s probably true, but it doesn’t make it right. Imagine where we would be at if fire or the wheel had been patented.

Even worse, many of these Apple patents have held back companies from innovating or creating unique products, and yet later have ended up invalidated.

Summing things up

Apple’s iOS 7 is a refreshing change of pace, and one that is sure to shake up the mobile world going forward. There are many changes that Jony Ive and team should be applauded for, fully original or not. They’ve taken an aging dinosaur and have given it wings.

I don’t fault the developers or designers at Apple. This was a good effort and is a clear improvement for iOS. My problem is with the higher-ups that are perfectly okay with taking “inspiration” from competing platforms/apps and yet feel the need to attack the competition over frivolous lawsuits regarding their own ‘unique’ ideas.

Protecting your IP is one thing, abusing patent law to hold back your rivals is another.

(As a disclaimer, I realize Apple is FAR from the only company to have ever brought forth a frivolous patent claim)

What do you think of iOS 7, are you bothered that many of the changes are nothing more than rehashes of features that have long existed on other platforms? Conversely, do you feel that Apple did absolutely nothing wrong here with taking existing ideas and simply expanding on them?