How iOS 14 stole fea­tures from An­droid – and made them so much bet­ter

We’ve seen some of the fea­tures be­fore, but they didn’t look this good. Michael Si­mon re­ports

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

At its re­cent WWDC key­note Ap­ple un­veiled iOS 14 – and if you’re an An­droid user, the ‘new’ OS might have looked a lit­tle fa­mil­iar. The lat­est up­grade to the iPhone op­er­at­ing sys­tem, due to re­lease this au­tumn, prom­ises im­prove­ments

in­clud­ing a new home screen, smarter nav­i­ga­tion, faster apps and a fresh coat of paint on ev­ery­thing. And it’s clear that many of the best fea­tures are in­spired, in­flu­enced, or just plain swiped from An­droid, from the new de­fault email and browser apps to the pic­ture-in-pic­ture for videos. You can plainly see the in­flu­ence on the new com­pact view for Siri and in­com­ing calls, cy­cling di­rec­tions in Maps, even the new home screen wid­gets.

But as I watched Ap­ple un­veil the fea­tures dur­ing the slick and fast-paced key­note, I couldn’t help feel­ing a lit­tle en­vi­ous. Ap­ple has re­fined An­droid’s fea­tures to the point where they prac­ti­cally make Google’s ver­sion seem down­right in­fe­rior. It’s not just Ap­ple’s slick sales pitch – there are nu­mer­ous iOS 14 fea­tures that I’ve used on An­droid for years. But they some­how still seem fresh and right at home on the iPhone.

Ap­ple gets a lot of credit for break­ing new ground, but the fact of the mat­ter is it rarely does. What Ap­ple does best is build things that work so well and feel so nat­u­ral that what­ever came be­fore doesn’t mat­ter. That tal­ent is on full dis­play in iOS 14.

A drawer by any other name

The most ob­vi­ous fea­ture bor­rowed from An­droid is the App Li­brary. Sim­i­lar in spirit to An­droid’s long-stand­ing app drawer, it fi­nally re­moves the need to keep ev­ery app you’ve down­loaded on your home screen with no way to sort them au­to­mat­i­cally.

But in­stead of just mov­ing them to a drawer, Ap­ple has de­vel­oped a novel fea­ture that lets you hide home screen pages but still ac­cess your apps with a swipe.

That’s sim­i­lar to how An­droid works – apps are col­lected in the drawer but can also ex­ist on your home screens for quick ac­cess – but the iOS 14 ver­sion lets you have it both ways.

Hid­ing apps from view on iOS is a long-over­due fea­ture that An­droid has had for years, but it still feels new in iOS 14. On An­droid, you need to nuke ev­ery app when you want to clear out a home screen and start over if you change your mind. Ap­ple’s App Li­brary keeps your home screens or­ga­nized as they were be­fore, but lets you eas­ily hide and un­hide them. Even the App Li­brary it­self gets an up­grade over the app drawer, with smart sug­ges­tions and fold­ers that spot­light your most com­monly used apps.

Win­ning the wid­get war

Ap­ple has also done a bet­ter job with iOS wid­gets. An­droid has had wid­gets on the home screen for as long as the iPhone has had a Light­ning port, but very few of them are worth us­ing, out­side of the Google search bar and ba­sic weather con­di­tions. Third-party wid­gets are, to put it mildly, mostly rub­bish, and Google hasn’t done any­thing to ad­vance the plat­form aside from a few Pixel-first wid­gets that are in­stalled by de­fault.

But wid­gets in iOS 14 re­ally do look good. They have a uni­fied de­sign that will ex­tend to third-party apps. The sizes per­fectly align with each other and the icon grid. They look like a nat­u­ral part of the home screen. Most im­por­tantly, they ac­com­plish their main task: to pro­vide at-a-glance in­for­ma­tion that cuts down on the need to launch apps.

It’s the same old story: An­droid gets there first, but Ap­ple gets it right. I can’t re­mem­ber the last time I added a wid­get to my An­droid home screen. Un­less it comes with the phone, like One UI’s weather wid­get or the Pixel’s search bar, they don’t add enough to the ex­pe­ri­ence to bother. When I down­load iOS 14, how­ever, one of the first things I’ll do is check out the app gallery and in­stall a few of them.

A bet­ter An­droid

Those aren’t the only fea­tures that are clearly cribbed from An­droid. You can see the An­droid in­flu­ence in App Clips, which are Ap­ple’s ver­sion of In­stant Apps, as well as the new com­pact in­ter­face for calls and Siri, the Trans­late app, PIP, choos­ing de­fault email and browser apps, not to men­tion cy­cling di­rec­tions and city guides.

Even pinned con­ver­sa­tions in Mes­sages is a fea­ture on Gal­axy phones.

But in nearly ev­ery in­stance, the im­ple­men­ta­tion is smarter on iOS. Ap­ple may take longer to get there, but more of­ten than not, Ap­ple sets the curve for fea­tures and de­signs on phones, and it’s up to Google to ig­nore it to tweak their own sys­tem. We’ve al­ready seen it with notches, ges­ture nav­i­ga­tion and face un­lock. I’m will­ing to bet An­droid 12 or 13 will have some­thing very sim­i­lar to the App Li­brary in­side the drawer.

Ap­ple might not be the first, but it usu­ally has the last word. That’s far more im­por­tant in the long run.

Once you see the App Li­brary in iOS 14, you’ll never look at the app drawer in An­droid in quite the same way

Five pounds says Google changes the wid­get in­ter­face in An­droid 12

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