Sunday, June 12, 2011

How Apple and Android Copy Each Other


The iPad may be a "magical, revolutionary product." But sometimes it seems like there's nothing new under the sun, whether in the Android or Apple worlds. Here are some of the most egregious examples of copycatting!


Android device manufacturers like Samsung have long copied Apple's style, almost to a T. Witness the photos and illustrations on All Things Digital, which show Samsung devices that look nearly identical to Apple's except for the logo. Meanwhile, the company's new Galaxy Tab tablets are basically generic-brand iPads, with the biggest difference (besides their Android operating system) being that they come in three different sizes.

Of course, all Android tablet makers struggle to differentiate their wares from the iPad, since they all can be described as "like an iPad, but". Even in the smartphone world, even with Android's increasing market share, the iPhone is still the benchmark. That's no accident; Android itself has always been a copycat. Before the iPhone came out, the prototype Android device aped the BlackBerry, but now they all have multitouch screens and rows of app icons.

Does Android have to be this way? I don't think so. HTC uses its HTC Sense overlay to create an extremely classy experience on its Android phones, one that's in many ways improved over the original. Meanwhile, Barnes and Noble redesigned Android's interface from the ground up for its Nook series of tablets, not just to be "original" but in order to make using a Nook easy and fun. So far, its strategy seems to be paying off.


Apple has a reputation for innovating, and for delivering an original experience. But Steve Jobs once quoted Picasso, saying that "great artists steal." And with the latest update to iOS, the operating system that powers the iPhone and iPad, he seems to have taken that suggestion to heart.

Out of all Android's features that set it apart from Apple's products, Apple has chosen to copy a few of them. The new pull-down notification area, which makes attention-seeking apps wait their turn instead of just giving you pop-ups, has been in Android from the beginning. And iOS devices no longer require a PC or Mac to sync to with iTunes; instead, they use the iCloud service, similar to the way Android devices can sync with Google's web apps.

Can copycats be good kitties, too?

For what it's worth, I agree with the quote that Steve Jobs repeated. No one creates anything truly original; everything people create is a reflection of their experiences, and a refinement of what they have used and designed before. Android and Apple's products are no different, nor should they be. So I'm not happy with Apple for launching patent lawsuits left and right, any more than I am with Microsoft's protection racket for Android device manufacturers.

At the same time, though, I'm bemused when I have to write articles introducing new Android tablets as "like an iPad, but". And I get excited when I see new and original things coming out, like the Nook or like Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 devices, just because they're a fresh take on a familiar experience.

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.

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