iOS After Android

People often say that Android is a copy of iOS. They always show off what the original Android UI would have looked like if iOS never existed. Although I agree that the initial launch version of Android was very reflective of Apple’s mobile OS, since then Android has been ahead in numerous ways. Android continues to blaze past iOS and competition without any hesitation. It brings more and more innovative features to the table than most people can even keep up with. Being both a user and developer, it’s exciting to see how far both the framework and user-end of the platform have come. But ever since the first iteration of Android, iOS seems more and more…familiar. In fact, here are some obvious influences Android had on iOS.

Note: I’m not saying that iOS being influenced by Android is wrong. On the contrary, I believe this is what technology is about – learning from each other and forcing others to improve their products. I’m just pointing these things out because it seems too many people give iOS credit for things Android made famous.

Multitasking

Although Android wasn’t the first multitasking mobile OS, there’s no doubt that the iOS implementation of multitasking is very close to Android.

Before Android: No multi-tasking. Yes, it was an OS that should have existed a decade back.

Android implementation: Hold down on the “Home” button and a list of the last 8 apps pops up. Also, third-party apps can use a framework object called a “Service” to make processes run in the background when the app isn’t explicitly running. Other than that, since Android was built for multitasking, inactive applications remain in a saved state for a particular amount of time. This means that when the user returns to the app after a short while, they come back where they left off. This doesn’t need to be strictly implemented by the developer, it’s a core part of the OS.

After Android: Double-click on the iOS “Home” button and a list of the last few apps pops up; also, since iOS was not built from top-to-bottom for multi-tasking functionality, you have to address what continues to happen in the background as the user leaves app and you’re app has to scurry and get everything ready in within a short period of time, or iOS will completely shut it out. This also means that multitasking will only work for an app if the developer specifically implements it. Nice. And it took them 4 versions of the OS to get this sloppy multitasking behavior working on their OS, excluding the original iPhone and the 3G which never got this feature.

Notifications

This one is too…obvious. And that’s an understatement.

Before Android: When the application has something to tell the user, this blue dialog box appears and pulls a Kanye. It interrupts whatever you’re doing, because obviously it’s more important, and you have to dismiss it before continuing on with whatever you were doing. And god forbid if you were playing a game and you accidentally decide to go to where the notification was taking you – game data, lost.

Android implementation: A notification icon appears (sometimes with a ticker) on the top status bar letting you know there’s something to see. When you’re ready to check it out, drag the status bar down and you see all of your notifications neatly placed. Now, you tap on the notification you want to check or slide it back up if you don’t care. Done.

After Android: See Android implementation. It took them 5 versions to get to this. One cool feature they did add is that the notifications appear on your lockscreen and you can swipe-to-unlock on that notification to jump straight to the app. I was very impressed with this.

But iOS still missed the mark. On the iPad, the notification bar is super awkward and doesn’t scale well. Google, I guess, saw this happening with their tablets as well. So instead, with Android tablets, there is no notification bar. They pushed the bar to the bottom, called it the “System Bar” (which has numerous more features) and now you can tap on individual notifications. And Android, yet again, stays one step ahead.

Backgrounds

Before Android: No backgrounds. A plain black background is where it’s at!

Android implementation: Any background you want. In fact, developers can create “live wallpapers” that are animated and can perform actions on user interaction. Oh, and the wallpaper scrolls as you switch screens.

After Android: It took Apple 4 versions, but finally they added wallpapers in iOS4. Static wallpapers. And the backwards compatible version of iOS4 for iPhone 3G slowed down the phone so much that users wanted to throw their phones out. It didn’t even contain this feature. Magical.

Over-the-Air Sync & Updates

Before Android: Always have to connect to a desktop/laptop to initialize the device and all syncs/OS updates have to happen through that same desktop/laptop.

Android implementation: All updates and sync can happen using the cloud. No need to connect the device. In fact, the only time I ever connected my device to a computer was when I was developing for it.

After Android: Finally, after 5 versions, iOS will have over-the-air updates and sync. You will no longer need to connect to a desktop/laptop to get the device initialized either. It is finally an independent OS. Welcome to two years ago, Apple.

Social Integration

Before Android: Each app needs to integrate social themselves, ie. more bloat per app.

Android implementation: Android is built to share. Using the framework feature called “intents”, apps can add a “share intent” that notifies the OS that it can receive items to share. Other apps can add a “Share” feature that, when hit, will list all applications that have that intent and can send data to them. In other words, apps can interact without ever knowing they exist in a safe, secure way. And the share intent is just one of nearly infinite ways apps can interact with each other in this way.

After Android: iOS adds Twitter integration. For any other social network, developers still need to add extra bloat. Revolutionary.

We can do this for hours…

Seriously. This just scratches the surface. And iOS still doesn’t have turn-by-turn navigation, app interaction, app-OS integration, homescreen widgets, customization capability and so many other features. Even things like voice-chat were available on Android devices before the iPhone 4 was even announced. Android has always been in the lead to innovate, and it’s obviously clear with iOS5 that Apple will always continue to be one step behind the competition. While Apple patents and sues companies for having rectangular devices, Android continues to fire past and enjoys the competition copying them. My advice for iOS lovers – keep track of what the next version of Android has: it’ll preview what iOS will offer in two years.

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