Most of us look forward to Apple events. We’re curious to see what new features will be introduced, regardless of whether we’ll ever actually use them. But for some developers, it can be a nerve-wracking time for one simple reason: what if Apple decides to clone your app?
Having your service or software copied is an occupational hazard for any developer, but the danger is particularly acute in Apple’s ecosystem because of the power the company wields over its OS and its users. The practice even has its own nickname — “Sherlocking” — named after Apple’s Sherlock search tool, which, in 2002, introduced a bunch of features previously found in third-party rival Watson.
Sherlocking comes in many shapes and guises, and it can’t just be characterized as a rapacious or malicious practice. Often, it’s the natural evolution of a particular program or a response to customer demand that developers met first and Apple is catching up to. And, yes, sometimes it’s just a way of choking out would-be rivals before they get too big for their boots.
With all that in mind, here are some of the new features Apple announced yesterday for iOS 12 that seem to have taken inspiration from elsewhere.
Apple’s new Memoji feature lets you design a cartoon avatar of your face for messaging and video calls. It’s a logical evolution of Animoji, which the company introduced last year, but it’s also a direct answer to a growing number of digital avatars, including Snapchat’s Bitmoji, Samsung’s AR Emoji, and the gaming avatars of consoles like the Xbox and Wii.
Bitmoji is certainly the best known and most widely used among this bunch, and it offers much more customization than Memoji. But, part of its user base comes from people installing the Bitmoji keyboard to use in other messaging apps, like iMessage. Apple’s Memoji could eat into this market, although Apple would have to let its characters travel outside of iMessage to really allow its avatars grow.
New: Screen Time
Time’s up: Moment
Tech companies are finally addressing how much time we spend on our phones. In iOS 12, Apple is introducing its own solution: Screen Time, a new feature that will let users quantify their phone and tablet usages and identify which apps consume most of their time.
A number of third-party apps have been offering a similar service for a while, but the most prominent is probably Moment, which launched back in 2014. (Amazon also offers something sort of similar with its FreeTime app.) Moment is free to download, but some features — like setting limits on individual app usage — require you to pay a small, one-off fee. Unfortunately for Moment, Apple’s Screen Time offers some of those same features for free.
New: Siri Shortcuts
This one isn’t technically Sherlocking because Apple is incorporating the features of an app it bought last year: Workflow. This was (and is) a fantastic tool for automating tasks on iOS, letting you execute a bunch of commands with a single button tap. For example, you can automatically upload the last photo you took to Dropbox or open your favorite Spotify playlist without having to dig through those apps’ interfaces. IFTTT (If This Then That) is another service that offers similar functionality, although it’s web-based, multiplatform, and will definitely continue to thrive.
With iOS 12, Apple is making these sorts of automation features part of the operating system with a new app called Siri Shortcuts. As with Workflow and IFTTT, it lets you execute complex tasks using a single voice command or button press. The app has a near-identical UI to Workflow, and it’s also supposed to predict tasks you do regularly, like buying coffee at the same shop each morning. Given that voice commands are optional, the Siri branding here is incidental, and this could become a powerful tool, like Automator on the Mac. (It’s also worth noting that Siri Suggestions are almost identical in functionality to Routines on Alexa.)
Remembered from: Google Photos, Rediscover This Day
This one isn’t a Sherlocking either so much as it is Apple knowing a good thing when it sees it. Google Photos has always been a Verge favorite, and part of the reason for that is it’s fantastic for discovering old images through features like “Rediscover This Day.” Like the web-based Timehop, this is a simple tool that just chucks digital memories at you every now and again. Apple has introduced something similar with a “Memories” section in the new “For You” tab in the updated iOS 12 Photos app. Memories? More like déjà vu.
New: Group FaceTime
This one will be a particularly fierce battle to watch unfold. Adding group video calls to FaceTime has been a long time coming, and the new interface looks intuitive enough (even if support for up to 32 users seems like overkill). However, this new feature will be going head-to-head with a bunch of group video chat apps, the most prominent of which is probably Houseparty (available on iOS and Android).
This app launched back in 2016 and, ironically enough, was created by the team behind live-streaming video app Meerkat, which was killed off by competitors from Facebook and Twitter. Houseparty’s no-frills group video chat has proven popular with teens, functioning as a casual online hangout similar to the way that AOL Instant Messenger did in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Houseparty even announced new Mac functionality in the middle of Apple’s WWDC 2018 keynote. Talk about timing.
Sherlocked: Every AR measurement app ever
This one isn’t much of a surprise, and it might even be welcome. As with the numerous flashlight apps that used to plague the App Store, measuring stuff with your phone is such a simple feature that it was bound to get integrated into iOS sooner or later. It’s a basic utility that many people will be thankful comes as part of the operating system. And from Apple’s point of view, it introduces people to augmented reality on their cellphone.
Feel free to drop a comment about anything we missed.