“Android phones copy/get ‘inspired’ by the iPhone”
It is one of the most commonly held beliefs in the tech world. And it pretty much comes to the fore every time an Android manufacturer comes up with something that bears semblance to the iPhone in terms of appearance or features. Consider the recently concluded Mobile World Congress at Barcelona, where every manufacturer who came out with a device that had a ‘notch’ in front of it, was called an iPhone copycat. There is some truth in the fact that the design of the notch on the iPhone has been largely imitated by some manufacturers, but the fact at the end of the day also is that the notch, in fact, originated in an Android phone – the Essential. For some reason, however, Apple was not accused of copying it (or expanding on it).
And this is not an aberration or a one-off, but an oft-repeated theme. A year before the notch issue, a number of people squarely blamed Apple for being out to remove the 3.5 mm audio jack when it ditched it in its iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Actually, Motorola had already removed it from its modular Moto Z and even before it; Oppo had also ditched it for making what was then the slimmest phone in the world, the OPPO R5. Yes, of course, the notch and the (absent) 3.5 mm audio jack grabbed headlines when the iPhone adopted or ditched them, but the fact is that they were not original iPhone moves. And yet, any Android manufacturer who now puts in a notch or removes the audio jack will be accused of copying the iPhone.
A lot of the “Android copies iPhone” mythology has its roots in some fact. After all, Apple was first off the easy-to-use-touchscreen-minus-stylus blocks with the first iPhone. And when Android followed, a lot of people rather naturally considered it a copycat move as on the surface; the UI seemed to follow similar icon driven lines, rendering a stylus useless. And when the Android Market (now Google Play) came into existence a few months after the iTunes App Store, this impression was strengthened. Google was seen to be cloning Apple in many quarters.
The period that followed saw a number of iPhone features come into Android. And well, to be honest, vice versa. For if, Android was trying to mimic the iPhone’s clean UI and app ecosystem, the iPhone for its part was learning to accommodate notification bars and widgets. There was a lot of give and take – without any agreement – happening. But given the higher profile of the iPhone and its being a single dominant entity, Android manufacturers generally found themselves on the receiving end, sometimes deservedly so when their interfaces and design tended to resemble the iPhone’s too closely. Steve Jobs’ declaration of “thermonuclear” war on Android further strengthened the perception of Android as a copycat.
The fact, however, was that while Apple’s implementation of them might have been more polished and thanks to its presentation wizardry, more noticeable, a number of innovations and changes seen on iPhones actually were seen on Android devices first. If that sounds hard to believe consider this:
- Face unlock was seen on the Galaxy Nexus in 2011
- The bezel-less display was actually made a rage by an Android device – the Xiaomi Mi Mix in late 2016. LG and Samsung too had high-profile bezel-less display devices before the iPhone X even came into existence.
- Stereo speakers have been around on Android devices for a while – even the Sony Xperia Play (2011) and the HTC One (2013) had them. The iPhone got them in 2016.
- Dual cameras were already seen on HTC devices and the Honor 6 Plus before they came to the iPhone in 2016.
- The Motorola Atrix had a fingerprint scanner way back in 2011. The iPhone got it in 2013.
- A number of Android devices were water and dust resistant well before the iPhone got onto that ship in 2016.
- Asus had implemented an optical zoom in its ZenFone zoom well before Apple’s publicised telephoto lens on the iPhone 7 Plus.
- Android was also first off the base with split-screen apps and wireless charging support.
Of course, a number of people will argue that Apple’s adoption of these features made them more popular. Fair point. When it comes to presentation, Apple has for long held an edge over its Android brethren. And of course, the sheer popularity of the iPhone means that it has received more focused attention over a period of time as compared to Android devices, where attention tended to get scattered. The fact that Android manufacturers have tended to battle each other as much as the Cupertino company has also tended to result in the impact of most of their innovations getting lost – see what happened to modularity or phones with projectors. Of course, it also bears mentioning that a number of Android products that came out with innovations did not succeed in the market for a number of other reasons, including poor implementation. That, however, does not make them less innovative in any manner.
So, a note to the Android fanboys: respect your platform. It has done a lot of good stuff. And for all its issues, is every bit as innovative as the one from the fruit company in Cupertino, as one manufacturer called it. Mind you, Android manufacturers would do well to look as closely at each other for “inspiration” as they look at Apple.