There’s more than enough coverage on the web about various things Apple announced today, so I won’t belabor all those points. But I’ve been seeing a lot of comments that are all sniping at various things in iOS that we’ve seen elsewhere. Functionality similar to Instapaper or Dropbox, or, “Apple steals from their own developers!” A notification system that looks pretty similar to Android’s, or “Apple steals from Google!” A new messaging system similar to BBM, or “Apple steals from RIM!”
Okay, look: a true argument is not necessarily a strong argument. Being the first mover on a given feature only makes a big difference if it’s a feature that a significant number of customers consider a make-or-break feature. It doesn’t matter that Android had a sane notification system before iOS did. If you’re presented with three phone models with three different operating systems that all do notifications in about the same way, is your decision going to come down to “that one had a notification center before the other two?” If so, I wish you and your Nokia N95 well. Godspeed.
But the history of personal computing is a history of functional consolidation. Tasks that start out as standalone third-party applications and end up truly being “must-haves” eventually get addressed by new features in other applications or the operating system.
Before Spotlight, you’d need somebody else’s search utility to find files quickly on a Mac. (Older Mac users would remember Sherlock 3—which effectively knifed the third-party program Watson, with similar fevered outrage.) Before Spaces, there were other virtual desktop programs. Email programs certainly didn’t come with your operating system fifteen years ago. Three decades ago, “spellchecker” was its own application category—then it moved into the word processor, and today has moved into the operating system itself. And lest we forget, the crux of the antitrust suit filed against Microsoft in 1998 was their decision to ship Internet Explorer with Windows.
Does iCloud mean less business for Dropbox? Sure, but is that an argument against Apple creating a document syncing API? People have been rightfully complaining since the iPad was released that moving documents on and off the device through iTunes was a tremendous pain in the ass. A lot of people find iTunes to be a tremendous pain in the ass, period. Look, folks: the only way to get iTunes out of the picture is for the operating system to do something like what Dropbox does. What’s being argued—that Apple should have bought Dropbox as some kind of acknowledgement they were there first? That’s nuts. My suspicion is that iCloud won’t be able to do everything that Dropbox does (and vice-versa).
Does Safari’s “Reading List” mean the death of Instapaper? Probably not; Marco Arment makes that case pretty well.
The only thing I can guarantee you, though: this is going to keep happening, on all platforms, on all devices. Because it’s been happening for about three decades.