Apple is closing the Android feature gap… or is it?

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Apple has let their latest cat out of the proverbial bag: a new version of iOS (that we’ve known about for quite some time), and a couple new phones.

To sum up the phones, the iPhone 5S is essentially the same phone as the iPhone 5 with a specs bump and a few new hardware bits. The iPhone 5C is trying to compete with both Windows Phones from Nokia, and “inexpensive” phones from various Android OEMs. But let’s not talk about hardware just yet. Let’s jump into software since we’re comparing iOS to Android — both of which are software.

Copycat

Apple has been learning a lot from Android and has implemented both the Notification Center and Quick Settings that we’ve all become familiar with in devices powered by Android. Sure, both of these features have the obligatory Apple design and style applied — and they look good, don’t get me wrong — but they’re very obviously copied.

Let’s shift over to Siri for a moment. The newly updated Siri now learns where and when you commute, and takes into consideration real-time traffic, letting you know when to leave so you get to where you’re going on time. That sounds a lot like Google Now! Siri also ties into more online search sources in order to return more relevant results. Again, just like Google Now.

Speaking of searching, Apple has moved “search” closer to the front, very much like Google Now and Android’s persistent search bar.

Do you like music? Apple introduced iTunes Radio — which is essentially Google Play Music All Access.

Remember the article we wrote about cross-platform file sharing needing some work? Well, Apple just showed off Air Drop, which is kind of like Android Beam, but doesn’t need NFC and seems a bit less secure to me.

How about graphics? iOS 7 with the new A7 chip brings support for OpenGL ES 3.0. This graphics configuration can do some amazing things. But it reminds me that Android introduced the same thing back in May.

We’ll get to the A7 chip in a minute, but let’s talk about the M7 co-processor which monitors the motion sensors inside the phone. That sounds an awful lot like the Motorola X8 that we talked about last month, doesn’t it?

With all this copying, is anything new?

Luckily, yes! Apple is pushing the boundaries of their mobile UI with its new focus on “layers”. Translucency is something that’s not particularly easy to accomplish, and even when it is, it’s hard to do right, but you can’t really “see” layers without it. Apple is getting close , but its semi-transparent layers in iOS 7 aren’t quite there yet. They do, however, add an elegant flair.

What Apple got right was the addition of what I’m going to call “faux-3D” to their homescreens. Seeing the wallpaper behind your icons is one thing. Seeing it set back some distance in the background with the icon layer shifting in relation to it as you tip and tilt your device is something completely different. I haven’t held an iPhone 5S running iOS 7 yet, but if it accomplishes half of what we saw in Apple’s presentation, it will be nothing short of amazing.

I’ve long been an advocate of securing your device, whether through a PIN, a pattern, or even with a bio-metric picture of your face. Apple just one upped all that with Touch ID. As its name implies, Touch ID uses your fingerprint to not only unlock your device, but also authorize iTunes purchases so you don’t have enter your password. Touch ID seems limited to just those two functions, however. Nothing was mentioned about using your fingerprint to encrypt communications (email, text, FaceTime, etc.), which is unfortunate. Even more disappointing is the fact that it’s totally locked down. No other app will have access to it, only those “blessed” by Apple.

Last, but certainly not least, is the fact that the iOS 7 was built for 64-bit. The OS, the drivers, and even the apps that come pre-installed — all are 64-bit and will take advantage of the new A7 SoC. That’s great news. Yes, it means that every app ever written will need to be recompiled to make use of the newly found bits, but just like your desktop PC, iOS will run 32-bit apps just fine along side their 64-bit siblings.

Lastly, the talking heads at Apple wanted us to know that their hardware is “environmentally friendly” and has an arsenic free display, is PVC free, and is even “Android-free”. After the laughter and applause died down, I was left wondering, if Apple really want to take jabs about being “Android free”, why is it still playing catch-up, and why is it so obviously copying Android features?

iOS 7 looks like it will be a great improvement, but I can’t wait to see what will be in iOS 8… then again, I suppose I’ll get a glimpse at that when Android 4.4 KitKat is released in the next month or so.

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video.Read more about Joe Levi here.