iOS 8 and the Android imitation fixation

Apple, Android

My, oh my, how times have changed.

Just a handful of years ago, Android was seen as the scrappy underdog of the mobile world. Google's operating system was widely viewed as lagging behind Apple's more mature offering and, with each new release, following iOS's lead to build out a more polished and complete platform.

That was then.

At some point in the past few years, the tables turned. Few would deny that Apple's been playing catch-up on the platform development front for quite a while now -- "innovating" familiar features and introducing all sorts of "revolutionary" new stuff that's been old news to folks on Android.

With this week's announcement of iOS 8, though -- dubbed by Apple as its "biggest release since the launch of the App Store" -- Apple's launching its most overt effort yet to bring Android-like features onto its mobile devices. It's no exaggeration: A staggering number of iOS 8's standout consumer-facing additions are things that are closely identified with the Android experience.

iOS 8, Android

How Apple's iOS 8 announcement looked to many of us

To wit:

Widgets

Yup, iOS is finally embracing 'em. They'll be limited to the system's Notification Center, but the same basic concept is there.

Hands-free voice activation

"Hey Siri, where have I seen this before?"

App-to-app sharing

Apple's at long last letting apps communicate with each other -- something that sounds mundane but has the potential to transform the mobile tech experience.

Interactive notifications

A natural follow-up to the introduction of notifications a few years back. Apple's implentation actually takes things a step further than what's currently available on Android, with the ability not only to tap a button but also to compose a message right from the notification itself, which is a nice touch.

Next-word prediction on system keyboard

Welcome to [2011]

Third-party keyboard support

Kindly forget that as recently as last March, Apple insisted that supporting third-party keyboards like SwiftKey and Swype wouldn't make for "the best customer experience." After all these years, Apple users are in for a treat.

The list goes on and on:

• Cloud-based photo storage

• Cloud-based photo sharing

• Cloud-synced document editing

• Native song identification

• A contextual search app that includes things like directions and movie times

• Travel time notifications

• Tab-based private browsing

• App-specific battery usage info

You get the point. There are certainly other elements of iOS 8 -- particularly behind the scenes and in the realm of iPhone-to-Mac connectivity -- but much of the stuff users will notice revolves around Android-like catch-up features.

Apple iOS 8

And you know what? That's okay. Tech companies copy each other all the time, and when one platform has a good idea, it's bound to show up on others before long. This'll be an enormous upgrade for iOS users, and that's something we can all celebrate (as long as Apple doesn't start suing everyone for "stealing" the concepts it just "invented," that is). It's easy for us as Android enthusiasts to feel a certain sense of indignation, but the whole "my mobile OS is better than yours" battle is pretty played out at this point, don't you think? Use what you like and be happy about it. The competition and back-and-forth one-upmanship can only benefit us all as consumers.

To be fair, this situation is a little amusing because of Apple's trademark "We innovate everything" and "We know what's best" attitude. That attitude's always pounded home in the form of definitive and absolute truths -- "this is the way it should be done," "that is not what users need" -- until suddenly it isn't.

At this rate, who knows? A 4.7-in. display might even become "the perfect size" for a phone before long. It might even be "revolutionary" if it does. 

Android Power Twitter

And here's the kicker: Every bit of that evolution -- including the hyperbole-filled marketing that's bound to surround it -- will ultimately make Android manufacturers step up their game and find more ways to make their products stand out. And that means we all win by getting better gadgets in the end.

Welcome to the crazy world of technology. Pull up a chair and enjoy the show. 

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