Imitation in the tech world is normal, even expected, but during Apple’s developers conference Monday, Tim Cook and company were in rare form. They didn’t have much uniquely Apple to show off at all.
Instead, the company played some catch-up, packing in feature after feature of things we’ve already seen from Apple’s rivals, and in some cases, have been around for years in other operating systems. It’s a known Apple-ism. Take a piece of technology that exists, perfect it, and sell it with massive marketing muscle. Until now, Apple’s done well with that model with many even thinking they created the smartphone and mp3 player—only because it made them mainstream. But this year, nothing seemed like significant upgrades to existing apps and services, just replicas.
That’s not to say Apple doesn’t have plenty of original ideas worth stealing—they definitely do—but WWDC 2015 didn’t add to that impressive pool of innovation. Instead, it was all about imitation. At some point, it seems Apple made an important realization that Google is figuring out the future of mobile and how we interact with our gadgets through contextual apps, deep linking and multitasking. Apple was behind on all counts.
The biggest, most glaring “me too” from Apple’s parade of new features Monday was “Proactive,” which for the most part is a Google Now clone. Indeed, Proactive is really nothing more than a shadow of Google Now, especially after Google announced its new superpowered Now on Tap. But the similarities between the two are pretty apparent. Proactive lives left of the homescreen, just like Google Now on Nexus devices; it searches deep links into apps already on your smartphone like Google Now; and the entire service is contextually aware so it gives you the info you want when you want it….like Google Now.
Even when Apple was trying to knock Google for its privacy woes (“We don’t keep any of your data unlike that other guy!”), they acknowledged that “yes, we know, this has been done before.”
The catch-up game doesn’t stop there. Apple gave a huge boost to Apple Maps by adding transit directions in the main app instead of linking to third-party apps like HopStop. This is, of course, something Google Maps has done for years and can do now with almost scary accuracy.
And how about that multitasking feature that Apple added to iPads—splitting two apps in a 1/2 or 2/3 ratio? Well, the most popular skin of Android, Samsung’s TouchWiz, has had that as part of its OS for awhile now, not to mention that it’s also a pretty clear rip from Microsoft’s multitasking work on Windows 8. It even goes beyond Google and Microsoft. Spotify, Flipboard, Feedly—they’re all there too. This isn’t a one-way street by any means. During Google I/O, Android added fingerprint authentication and selective app permissions—both already found on iOS. Microsoft’s also pulled influences from both in the past.
But Apple “innovation” has a tendency to induce amnesia. Will we forget the days when Apple had a Google Now competitor because Proactive gets so good that the alternative isn’t worth remembering? Who knows, but early reaction from WWDC suggests that the fog is clearing and maybe Apple is no longer able to convince us that they are the world’s greatest innovator.
Most likely, 2016 will see big changes across mobile and desktop operating systems for Apple, and more original ideas that made Apple the near trillion-dollar company that it is. But this year, Apple is taking some time to mime.
Video by Michael Hession; Words by Darren Orf