"We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas," Steve Jobs famously said in a 1996 PBS interview. And today’s WWDC keynote was certainly filled with great ideas that didn’t start with Apple — in fact, from top to bottom, it felt like a catch-up to some of the best features and products from Microsoft and Google, among others.
iOS 9 takes the best Windows 8 feature
Take iOS, for starters, where Apple’s big addition is multitasking for the iPad. Microsoft did a good job of this in Windows 8, which lets apps run side-by-side or with a 70 / 30 percent split. Apple is doing exactly the same. The picture-in-picture video feature is a nice plus, but the split view and app dragging features are Windows 8 through and through, which enables the iPad to work a lot more like Microsoft’s Surface tablets. Of course, Microsoft introduced the feature in 2012 — it only took Apple a few years to catch up ahead of a rumored iPad Pro.
If you’re familiar with Siri, you’ll know it needs a lot of improvements, and Apple is delivering those with iOS 9. The new Siri appears to combine the functionality of Microsoft’s Cortana assistant and Google Now: Apple’s Proactive feature scours your address book or email to find information and act on it, or allows you to set powerful reminders or app suggestions based on your location.
Apple Maps is heading in the right direction
Maps has been a bit of a sore point for Apple since its launch, but the company is pushing ahead to improve its app and service up against Google Maps. Transit directions will add train, bus, and subway information straight inside Apple Maps, covering just 20 cities worldwide at launch. It’ll still be well behind Google Maps in some respects — Street View, for instance — but at least Apple is heading in the right direction.
But Apple brought in inspiration from beyond Microsoft and Google, too: there’s "News," which is Apple’s shot-for-shot take on Flipboard. The new app brings in articles from a variety of organizations such as CNN, Time, Wired, BuzzFeed, and even The Verge. Like Flipboard, there are pretty animations to transition between articles, and the ability to play videos inline from web content. You can create favorites and News will learn what you prefer to read, just like Flipboard’s cover stories.
OS X window management catches up to Windows 7
Apple was quick to highlight some new additions to OS X today as well. An update to Safari brings some improvements that you might have seen elsewhere: pinned sites and the ability to spot audio playing in tabs. Chrome has had both of these features for quite some time now. Elsewhere in OS X, another big feature is a split view to snap apps side-by-side. If you use Windows, you probably first saw this back in 2009 when Windows 7 first debuted. Six years later, you no longer have to install a third-party tool to get basic window management in OS X.
And then there’s Apple Music, arguably the single biggest announcement to come out of WWDC today. It's an attempt to move away from the iTunes model and to meet competition like Rdio and Spotify — a long time coming, and Apple acquired Beats to make it happen. Apple also hired BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe to head up a 24/7 radio station named Beats1. Lowe rose in popularity during his days at the BBC, showcasing new music and interviewing big stars such as Kanye West, Jay Z, and Eminem. From the teaser that Apple presented today, Beats1 looks and sounds very similar to BBC Radio 1, and that’s probably no mistake. Gone was U2, replaced with Pharrell Williams and a younger, hipper look. Beats1 has its sights set on the same audience of teens and young adults that BBC Radio 1 targets, so it makes sense that Lowe is at the forefront.
Copying the competition was the theme of WWDC 2015
This isn’t the first time Apple has copied the competition at all, but it feels like the first time it’s been the dominant theme of the event. And that’s not to say the entire industry isn’t an echo chamber of catch-up and incremental improvement at times: the MacBook Air begat ultrabooks, iMovie begat Windows Movie Maker, and research at Xerox begat the Lisa and Macintosh. There was plenty of real, demonstrable innovation on hand for developers today — take Swift 2 and improvements to Metal, for instance — but for a company that has built itself on meaningful differentiation, it would’ve been great to see some more of it on stage for consumers, too.
For now, the attention turns toward this fall, where Apple will undoubtedly show off new iPhones, iPads, and perhaps the long-rumored Apple TV revamp. With any luck, that’s where Apple’s next round of innovation will lie. As for iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan, Android and Windows users have been getting a taste of what’s next for quite a while — but with the benefit of time, Apple might just refine and improve what others have already done.