7 iOS Features That Apple Copied From Other Companies
Each fall, Apple launches a new version of iOS, the operating system that powers its signature iPhone and iPad lineup. But not all — or in some cases, even most — of the new features that Apple expertly markets with each year’s much-hyped iPhone launch are really all that new at all.
It’s not news in the tech world that software companies big and small often take cues from their competitors’ plans and products. In fact, most times that a company unveils a feature that’s new to its platform or flagship product, a similar feature has already been available on a competing platform. Read on to learn about which recent iOS features were copied, or at least inspired, by the work done of other operating systems and app developers.
1. News app
Let’s start with an easy one. The News app that Apple introduced with much fanfare when it rolled out on iOS 9 was by no means an original creation. It calls to mind not only numerous third-party apps that you can download from the app store of your operating system of choice, but also apps like Flipboard (which comes pre-nstalled on Samsung devices), or even HTC’s Blinked.
The only original thing about News is the unique way that Apple stands to benefit as publishers try to figure out whether they should brave the mobile web — and potentially see their revenue diminished by the ad-blocking apps that Apple, conveniently, also enabled with iOS 9 — or if they should just give in and publish their content in News, where users won’t be able to block ads.
2. Public transit directions in Maps
In iOS 9, Apple finally added the ability to get bus, train, and subway directions in the Apple Maps app. The functionality is pretty useful, and can even show you full maps of subway stations to show their various entrances and how they’re laid out underground, which can be particularly useful in places like New York City.
But competing apps, from niche players all the way up to Google Maps, had had the functionality to give public transit directions for years. Years before, in 2012, Google’s app even started alerting users to service outages and delays on various public transit lines and systems. Many iPhone users were glad that Apple finally added transit directions in its own navigation app, but that’s mostly because the app is perceived as lagging behind its competitors, not because it’s a novel feature or one that Apple has implemented in a uniquely useful way.
3. Low power mode
Low power mode is a welcome iOS addition for users who routinely worry that their iPhones will die before they get home (or to their next destination with reliable access to a power outlet). Low power mode reduces the amount of power that your iPhone consumes by disabling or reducing mail fetch, Hey Siri, background app refresh, automatic downloads, and even some of the operating system’s visual effects.
Cory Gunther recently reported for Gotta Be Mobile that Android users have been enjoying a similar feature from three to four years, depending on what phone they use. A feature that’s native to Android debuted with Android 5.0 Lollipop, which offered the option to put your device into a low power state, saving the last 10% or 20% of the battery for tasks that are more important than making sure that your Facebook News Feed refreshes in the background.
4. Proactive alerts and Spotlight Search suggestions
One of the most-anticipated additions to iOS 9 was a piece of software called the Proactive Assistant. iOS 9 pays attention to your habits and can offer suggestions based on your current time and location. It knows when you’re driving and when your appointments are, and can do things like surface your usual jogging playlist as you plug in your headphones for your morning run. But that’s hardly a feature that’s original to Apple’s operating system. Google Now has long offered alerts to users, notifying them of when it’s time to leave for an appointment and other options.
Similarly, Apple added suggestions of recent contacts, apps, and places when you open iOS 9’s revamped Spotlight Search. It’s a useful feature, and one that can often streamline the task you’re trying to complete on your iPhone. But it definitely takes its cues from third-party apps and other operating systems. Apps like Textra will show a user their most-frequently-used contacts, and Android Marshmallow can curate a list of the apps you use most often. But as Gotta Be Mobile notes, one of the great things about Apple’s Proactive Assistant is that it doesn’t track you or link your activity to your Apple ID, while to use Google’s version, you have to give Google access to things like your entire Gmail account.
5. Third-party keyboard support, plus keyboard shortcuts
With iOS 8, Apple finally added the ability to customize the operating system on your iPhone or iPad with a third-party keyboard (a feature that Google’s Android operating system has offered for years). With the change, users could finally choose what kind of keyboard they wanted to use, from fairly conventional alternatives to offerings as unique as the round Hero Keyboard, which is optimized for faster typing (if you can ride out the learning curve, that is).
Similarly, Apple made some changes to its own keyboard, which you’ll see if you opt to stick with the default keyboard instead of picking an alternative in the App Store. The QuickType keyboard now includes a shortcut bar, which offers shortcuts for adding photos or files to messages or emails. The ability to quickly take a photo or insert an existing file has been available to Android users for years via the operating system’s stock keyboard, manufacturers’ additions, or even third-party keyboards like SwiftKey and Swype. Even the keyboard’s new ability to predict what you’re going to type next isn’t actually a new feature, and instead, has appeared on Android and BlackBerry phones for years.
6. Swipe gestures in Mail
With iOS 8, Apple added the ability to swipe emails to delete or mark them as read. By swiping on a message, you can flag, archive, or delete a message or thread. Additionally, a “More” button reveals options to reply, forward, flag, mark a message as unread, move it to another folder, or set up an alert. A long swipe can automatically delete or mark a message as read without the need to tap further. The gestures makes it easy to manage and control your inbox with one hand.
Many iOS 8 users recognized the gestures from the once-popular Mailbox app, which TechCrunch reports is now shutting down, but was once the subject of “a huge amount of hype” thanks to its million-user waiting list and its creation of what was, at the time, a unique interface for reading email with options to dismiss and archive messages with simple gestures. Laptop Mag reports that Palm’s webOS was one of the first to introduce a swipe-to-delete feature, which it debuted in 2009. Google’s Gmail app for Android and the Samsung mail app have both offered swipe gestures for years. And the mail app in Windows 10 has taken the functionality even further, offering users the option to configure what left and right swipes in the app will do.
7. Split-screen and multitasking features
With iOS 9 on the iPad, Apple introduced the ability to run two apps on the screen simultaneously. A feature called Slider Over enables you to interact with a second app without leaving the one you’re using. Split View enables you to open and use two apps at the same time. And Picture in Picture enables you to complete tasks in other apps while carrying on a FaceTime conversation or watching a movie.
Similar features had been available for several years on Android devices like the Galaxy S6, Galaxy Note 3, LG G3, and the LG G4. On some of Samsung’s Galaxy tablets, users can even have four windows open at any given time. Samsung was one of the earliest to the multitasking game, and the TouchWiz interface it adds to its Android devices has supported a multi-window mode for years. In 2012, Windows introduced docked apps with its Modern UI, and in 2014, enabled Windows 8.1 users to split the screen evenly between two apps.