While Apple has its big day, some of the newest features might ring familiar to those who are not among the Apple faithful. In as lighthearted a manner as possible, we want to look at some of the “inspiration” the tech giant drew from as it devised some of the headlining features. We’ll, of course, give some credit where it’s due, though.
Let’s start with a disclaimer: Apple does a good job. They often take features that have “existed” and they tend to knock them out of the park, bringing something new to the table or just integrating them into their products in a seamless way that hasn’t happened before. We’re just going to have a little fun for those that don’t have Apple stuff and thus didn’t get to enjoy the big WWDC fiesta of yesterday.
If you aren’t yet in the loop on the new feature announcements from WWDC, check out our post outlining the basics.
Apple promoted a few different improvements to messaging and input: you can now send videos, audio recordings, and use third-party keyboards for typing (as well as their new and improved default). Some of these might seem familiar.
The image above is WhatsApp. That app has pretty much been doing all of those things for a while now. Outside of the US in particular, it is the go-to messaging app on all platforms – mainly because SMS is not so common elsewhere, so SMS integration isn’t very important.
With that said, the new iOS 8 update will give you these features along with SMS. The only problem is that these only benefit iMessage users, and you can only use iMessage on iDevices. WhatsApp is available on pretty much every mobile platform, but does not offer SMS. Google Hangouts offers SMS integration much like iMessage has done and does offer pretty cool features of animated GIF sharing as well as location sharing, but does not support recorded audio and video to be sent just yet. You can, however, do group video chats.
As far as keyboard replacements, this has obviously been an option on Android for quite a while and the promoted third parties coming to Apple, Swype and Swiftkey, were “born” on Android. It was always rather strange that iOS hadn’t supported this, but is one of the drawbacks of a relatively closed operating system.
iCloud Photo Syncing
This one’s been knocked out of the park by Google. Google+ Auto Backup does this, in addition to doing its Auto Awesome feature to certain pictures. Even better is that the Google offering does not count against the free (or purchased) Google Drive storage unless the photos are over 2048 pixels on either dimension, meaning you get virtually unlimited backup of the pictures taken by phones.
Picasa and the mobile sibling, integrated in the Google+ app, have also been holding down the “automatically sync pictures across devices” functionality for quite a while as well. This is a feature offered to iOS users too, making it very possible to mix and match mobile and desktop operating systems without a problem. And while this is all part of Google+, all photos are private unless otherwise desired.
The new iCloud photo syncing features seem to be of dubious value to all except the most diehard Apple users.
This one has been on Android since 4.2 Jelly Bean, which came out in November 2012. Here’s an example of how it looks on Android, where app developers have flexibility to implement them into third party apps.
This one has long been a talking point for those that don’t like iOS, so props to Apple for at least getting around to this one (much like the third-party keyboard critique). We’ve talked about Android a lot, who has had this as a feature since its version in 2008. Let’s look at Windows Phone, who took widgets and made them really unique.
Windows Phone 8 did a really cool job of making something people wanted, widgets, into something distinctly theirs and incredibly useful. Likewise, it is really customizable, as you can see here, since there are myriad sizes for all of your most-used apps.
This one’s pretty easy. iCloud as we knew it before yesterday was borderline useless in comparison to its various competitors, with high prices, few allowed file types, and Apple-only compatibility.
There are various competitors that have offered these features, like Dropbox‘s easy-to-use drag-and-drop file saving that works on every device you can think of.
While most have been offering all kinds of versioning control as well, something Apple introduced yesterday, I’m particularly fond of Microsoft OneDrive‘s various features in this vein. Not only does it not really matter what platform you’re using (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Windows Phone), but you do not even need OneDrive or Office installed to take advantage of the editing and versioning features.
With the free Office Online, just hop on any ol’ computer and you can finish that document you left open at home.
The other thing OneDrive can boast is just-as-good, if not better, OS integration with Windows 7 and 8.
Phone calls and text from desktop
This one was pointed out by Android Central and, in my opinion, is probably the weakest argument thus far. With that said, the integrated text and calling capabilities between iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite do resemble some features that already exist – most notably, Google Voice.
Google Voice is a service that can integrate into Android devices, but also the web and iOS. You can use a real phone number of your choosing or move your current phone number over to Google Voice. From there, you can send SMS messages and make voice calls to “real” phone numbers like anything else. I use Google Voice as a business phone number and to retrieve voicemails on my personal line.
With that said, Google has not paid much attention to Voice for a while and lacks the seamless integration with any desktop OS the way this new Apple feature boasts. What it really needs is to be merged into Google Hangouts, which is probably the reason Voice itself hasn’t seen much attention lately. Hangouts, of course, migrates conversations easily across platforms.
MightyText is a third-party Android app that makes it possible to send SMS, MMS, and monitor your battery and call log from your tablet or PC. Unlike Voice, this allows you to operate your phone’s SMS seamlessly from other devices, much like the Apple feature. That a third party did this goes to show you one of the benefits of a more open platform for development.
It works by installing an app on your Android phone, which you don’t have to use as your primary texting app, and then connecting the service to the other devices you want to use. There is another app for Android tablets and extensions for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, and Opera. You can also install an additional Chrome extension that puts the chat windows into your Gmail just as Google Hangouts chats are.
This is free and does exactly what you would hope the Apple equivalent does, except it should work on any desktop OS and also integrates with Android tablets. What it doesn’t do, however, is give you the ability to answer phone calls (just tells you when they are coming in).
Skype is also a platform from which you can text, message, video chat, make and receive phone calls, and a few other things from a variety of platforms and with good integration into Windows 8. With that, it also isn’t free and is far less widely adopted than iMessage and Hangouts.
The bottom line with this one is that nobody has made it as easy (and free) to make phone and computer work as well for both texting and calling as the proposed new feature for Apple devices, but if one your devices isn’t from Apple, you’re completely out of luck.
Spotlight has been made more useful it seems, by searching both the computer and the web. Bing has been appointed the default search engine, but it also searches Wikipedia for those kinds of answers when it deems appropriate.
Of course, many Apple users might already be familiar with Alfred App, which has really made Spotlight obsolete for all who have it. Alfred has more features than you could ever know what to do with while looking like a native, beautiful part of OS X. It offers the same intelligent searches, along with searching apps, contacts, your iTunes music collection, and email. You can use it as a calculator, map, dictionary, or clipboard.
On other OSes, there are similar features as well. With Windows 8, Microsoft introduced a real kickass system search that almost certainly inspired the Spotlight improvements.
Making it easy for developers to develop apps for both desktop and mobile
One of the less talked-about aspects of WWDC was the announcement of Sprite, a “new” programming language which is similar to Objective C and will be a programming language for both mobile and desktop Apple apps. They transparently said the ultimate goal with this is to encourage convergence of mobile and desktop devices and software.
Android, for its part, is not inherently convergence-oriented. There’s no desktop OS with which to possibly integrate. For programming and software development, there aren’t really similar considerations. Google’s development of Android follows their more general philosophy, which is focusing on the web. Web services are available everywhere. Web first, software development second. Making Chrome the most popular browser was all a part of that, as Chrome is all about getting you into Google web services.
Another operating system has taken on an approach like Apple has with Sprite and they are way ahead: Microsoft. Windows 8(.1) has drawn a lot of ire for being a shock to the system, particularly its start screen interface. It was different and people always react negatively to different. However, what it did was make mobile and desktop the same thing. Windows Phone is still a nominally separate OS, but Windows 8 tablets feature the same operating system as Windows 8 desktops.
This means that Microsoft has been making huge progress on integrating all sizes of screen into one unified OS “in the wild” for over a year now. The Microsoft Store is steadily growing in its app selection and provides users with apps that work on all sizes of screen. Windows Phone 8.1, while still separate, integrates fabulously well and Microsoft is openly planning to eventually do away with a separate phone OS.
The advantage Apple has here is that there are a great deal of developers working on software for both OS X and iOS, so they will be eager to develop software for whatever Apple comes up with. Microsoft still has to coax developers to use the Microsoft Store without ruining the relatively open “install whatever you want from the web” system that has been in place on desktops for a very long time.
While Microsoft is ahead now and might stay ahead, they will have to keep third party software development moving at a pace that can’t be surpassed by a flurry of development for whatever Apple’s next move may be.
Not everything from WWDC had a precedent
Both HealthKit and HomeKit are ambitious efforts that nobody else seems to be going after.
HealthKit aims to unite all the different fitness and health-oriented apps and web services to put them in more frutiful dialogue with one another. You have one nutrition log, a GPS running tracker, and a workout log, but none of them are connected in any way, shape, or form. Apple is trying to change that by giving them a common API that makes them all accessible from one place. Microsoft has made a modest effort at this, but has hardly pushed it on its Windows 8 users, who probably have hardly noticed.
HomeKit takes on another growing section of the market and tries to bring some order to the chaos. The smart home hardware market is exploding, but most of these “smart” devices operate independently from one another. If Apple’s HomeKit API catches on, they can add something truly new and useful by making it possible to centrally control all of the smart devices in one’s home.
Featured image by Martin Krzywinski (Flickr).