Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and with iOS 8 Apple really wants to flatter Android. Here are five features in iOS 8 that Apple stole from Android. (For more on iOS 8, see iOS 8 release date, new features in iOS 8: Apple unveils iOS 8 with new features & HealthKit.)
It’s not something the true believers ever want to hear, but much of Apple’s success in the past two decades has been based on taking existing tech and ideas and making them into great products. Apple didn’t event the digital music player, the smartphone or the tablet, but it sure as Hell made the first versions of those products that people truly loved.
And that in turn led to other manufacturers having to play catch up. Android was not, initially, a worthy adversary to iOS.
In the smartphone world that process has been over for a while, however. I’d suggest that from the Galaxy S3 onwards the best Android phones have offered every bit as good an experience as does the iPhone. Sometimes better, often cheaper, and always with more flexibility and customisation - if you are comfortable sharing all of your user data with Google. (Hint: I am. For more on this see: The 28 best smartphones: The best phone you can buy in 2014.)
This is so much the case that in iOS 8 Apple is now cherry picking and paying tribute to the best features of Android. Its business model won’t allow it to offer up the choice of media stores that is arguably Android’s best facet, but Apple has always been usefully pragmatic about replicating the best efforts of its rivals, and this is very clear in the number of Android features now turning up in iOS 8.
As ever Apple’s iCloud is playing catchup with Google’s cloud-storage options, but that’s a given. Google is - as well as an advertising giant - in essence a cloud company, after all. And Apple has even started releasing products that are 'in beta', a favourite Google trope.
In this article, however, I am going to pick out the five great Android features that Apple has nicked and added to Android. And I tip my hat to Cupertino’s finest for doing so. Great artists steal, after all.
5 iOS 8 features Apple stole from Android
1. Typing suggestions
We’ll come on to keyboard options in a little while, but the default Android keyboard has long been one of the features Google offers that is categorically better than the iPhone and iPad equivalent. And for one simple reason.
Start typing and suggested words will appear letter by letter. Hit the correct word and you save the time it would have taken to type the while word - and it is a pretty intelligent selection process. It is a simple, but great, feature, and it makes typing on Android much faster.
And now, presuming it works well, iPhone and iPad users can enjoy the same benefit.
2. 'Okay Google’, meet 'Hey Siri’
In certain parts of east London we have grown used to the sight and sound of hipsters tapping the side of their glasses and saying 'Okay Google'. They are not [only] deranged, they are communicating with a smart voice assistant. Which of course, Apple’s products have in Siri.
But 'Okay Google’ isn’t jut a Google Glass thing. Hotword detection is also the basis of the Google Now Launcher that shipped with the Nexus 5. As long as your phone is awake, saying 'Okay Google' wakes up the voice assistant. In iOS 8 Apple has added something similar in the guise of 'Hey Siri', the ability to immediately engage Siri simply via a voice command.
This requires the microphone to be always on, of course, which creates battery life issues. Some Google Android devices solve this by having a separate voice co-processor. Current iPhones and iPads don’t have this capability, so 'Hey Siri' will only really be useful if you have your headset plugged in on existing iPhones. But it is entirely possible that (a) the iPhone 6 may have a dedicated voice coprocessor or (b) Apple is set to release a wearable that will do the job anyway. Watch this space.
3. Third-party keyboards
The native Android keyboard is great, as we said earlier. But Google has long given Android users the opportunity to explore the world outside its own platform. This is certainly the case in terms of keyboard input.
Third-party software keyboards such as Swype offer a different kind of input, system wide. This allows you to choose the best input method for you, and to use it throughout your phone or tablet. And now Apple is allowing the same thing on iOS: even using Swype to demonstrate how this works on iOS 8. (See also: WWDC 2014 keynote: as it happened - Apple launches iOS 8 and OS X 10 Yosemite | new features, details.)
No, not the thing that made Boddingtons in a can vaguely palatable. Software widgets. Widgets have always been part of Android, and third-party widgets have been there for almost as long.
Look at your Android phone or tablet and - depending on the hardware manufacturer’s vision - you’ll see a mix of icons and live widgets. Critically, you can customise these as you see fit. And now Apple is bringing bit of that widgety goodness to iPhone and iPads.
But even the all-new 'fun' Apple isn’t entirely prepared to let you have full control of your device’s desktop. iOS 8 widgets are small app extensions that take up a spot in the Notification Center. So you can at least access the app from the widget. And the critical change is that where in the past these widgets have been limited to Apple’s system apps, now third parties can finally make their own.
Not quite a widget free for all, but a big change for Apple and iOS in terms of opening up the platform.
5. Useful notifications
And finally, notifications that do more than just disturb you. Android has long allowed developers to add up to two action buttons to a notification. So when the message pops up telling you that you have a message you can reply right from the notification, the relevant app opening as required. Simple, but very useful. And now Apple wants on board with an implementation that looks very similar to Android’s.
But in true Apple style Apple has stolen and improved. So there’s a working text box in some notifications meaning you can directly type into the notification and respond without ever having to open up an app. Pretty smart. (See also: Apple iOS 8's 12 best business features.)