Apple took the stage today at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, California to announce the latest new features — for developers and consumers alike — for its four main platforms: watchOS, tvOS, macOS (previously called OS X), and iOS. There is tons of new stuff in these releases set to go public later this year, but one thing that became increasingly clear as the event progressed was that the Cupertino company is playing a lot of catch up.
It’s not a new trend, really. Google has always introduced features and potential products to the public not long after they become barely workable experiments, leaving other companies like Apple to appear behind at times — whether or not they actually are “behind” in reality. It goes without saying that there are always things being worked on in the background (that’s why I put “copied” in quotes), but with many of today’s announcements, Apple brought those things to light.
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Of course there are areas where Apple can’t really be compared to Google, and of course there others where Apple is even ahead. In fact, one of the company’s core values — privacy — is an area where it seemed at I/O earlier this year that Google is doing some catch up of its own (see: Allo). And Apple emphasized today — perhaps to help excuse its tardiness — that it wants to provide users with great features and privacy. And that it did, whether or not you agree with the philosophy.
It started in the very beginning of the event with watchOS 3, which adds “scribble” mode to write using input from your finger. This is almost identical to a feature that Google announced last month as part of Android Wear 2.0, although Apple says that its Scribble handwriting input feature supports Chinese characters.
Watch face switching
In the upcoming watchOS 3, you’ll also be able to swipe left to right to swap between your most-used watch faces. This is very similar to how it’s done in Android Wear 2.0.
Voice searching for YouTube videos
Apple announced today that — in addition to the huge catalog of TV shows and movies that you can search for — Siri can now quickly pull up YouTube videos with a simple command. Seeing as YouTube is owned by Google, you’ve been able to quickly search and load up YouTube videos on Android TV since the platform launched.
Apple TV Remote Control
One of the other big things that Apple announced for tvOS today was that the company has built a new Apple TV remote app — something that has been available for Android TV since its launch.
Unlock via Apple Watch
One of the very first features that Apple showed off for macOS Sierra was the ability for Macs to be automatically unlocked via Apple Watch. This is very similar a longstanding feature for Chromebooks called Smart Lock. This feature lets your Chromebook find your Android phone and unlock itself when your phone is within proximity. Apple’s site shows this working with Apple Watch, but it’s not clear if trusted iPhones will unlock your mac as well.
Optimized storage feature
We can’t help but mention that the optimized storage feature that Apple introduced alongside macOS Sierra is a concept that was largely pioneered by a company called Nextbit. The company’s Android phone, called the Robin, automatically stores old files, apps, etc. in the cloud to preserve space, and redownloads them automatically when you need them.
Raise to wake
The very first feature that Apple showed off with iOS 10 was Raise to wake, something that has been a feature available for some Android phones for years. For example, Google’s own Nexus 6 (made by Motorola), Nexus 5X (made by LG), and Nexus 6P (made by Huawei) sport the feature, although that implementation saves battery life and only shows notifications and the time when you raise the phone.
“Clear all” in Notification Center
This one doesn’t need an explanation.
Siri for developers
Siri has long been completely closed off, but Google has over the last year or so opened up its Google Now voice assistant to third-party apps and websites. There are now more than 100 integrations spanning apps like Spotify, ABC News, Jawbone, Instacart, Feedly, and more. With iOS 10 and beyond, developers will be able to build Siri support for their apps.
One of the most obvious places that felt like catch up, though, was the new Photos app a part of iOS 10. My Twitter feed immediately blew up with people saying “Did Apple just announce Google Photos for iOS?” and “Wow, this is basically Google Photos.”
The short version is that while it appears to look a lot like Google Photos, it’s not. All of Google’s image processing and computer vision happens in the cloud (which means Google’s servers are looking at your photos). The new features in Photos for iOS all happen on the device itself, something that Apple had to spend a lot of extra time to accomplish in the name of privacy.
That said, the functionality is much the same and it’s still to be seen if regular users will care if Apple’s version offers better privacy. Undeniably, Apple’s new “Memories” feature is very similar to the albums, “Rediscover this day” images, and movies that Google Photos automatically creates.
While Apple did introduce some great features for its in-house mapping app, there were many things that have long been available in the well-known-to-be-better Google Maps app. The new Apple Maps has traffic on route, a new dynamic view that changes as you’re driving, and quick controls to search for destinations along your route. These are all features that have long been in Google Maps.
Another feature that has long been missing from iOS was voicemail transcriptions like the ones that have long been available via Google Voice. Now, the Phone app in iOS 10 will transcribe your voicemails so that you can easily read them without having to listen to them. If you use Google Voice or you have Project Fi, this is a feature that’s hard to live without once you get used to it.
Many of the things that Apple announced for iMessage would be more accurately described as catching up to Facebook, but there was also many similarities to the features that Google announced at I/O earlier this year. Particularly, Google’s new messaging app Allo introduced a feature called Allo helps users express themselves; namely in many stickers and a feature called “Whisper Shout,” which lets you change the size of your message by tapping, holding, and sliding on the send button.
Allo also lets you send larger emoji, offers emoji predictions, can send stickers, and draw on top of the photos you send. It goes without saying that there are some things that Apple is introducing to iMessage with iOS that Google hasn’t done — to me the coolest of those include full screen effects, bubble effects, and the ability to play music inline — but overall it feels a lot like Apple’s iMessage update today was a big “me too!”
To say that either Google or Apple straight up “copies” the other would be ignorant (hence the quotes in the headline), because as we’ve seen over the years, both companies are clearly innovative and introduce great new ideas and products that please their customers. No matter which side you take, though, it’s obvious that many of these things have been available on Google’s platforms for months — if not years.
Which features are you most happy to see finally come to Apple’s platforms?