When Apple previewed iOS 7 earlier this week, I noted it took design cues from Microsoft's Windows Phone and functional cues from Android. The blogosphere had a rash of posts criticizing Apple for stealing ideas from its competitors.
For decades, everyone has copied Apple's designs shamelessly -- and they still do. Windows 3.1 was of course highly "inspired" by the original Mac OS, aka System. How many iPod-like MP3 players debuted after the iPod zoomed? More recently, Google's Android and Palm's WebOS took Apple's app grid approach. Everyone now has an app store and an iTunes-like media service. Hewlett-Packard's new Ultrabooks are so much like an Apple MacBook that you have to check for the Windows key to be sure they're not Macs.
Apple has always fumed -- and not very quietly -- about other companies ripping off its ideas. Former CEO Steve Jobs was particularly offended by the notion, which is why his peace treaty in 1997 with Microsoft's Bill Gates so shocked the Mac faithful. It's also why Apple has declared nuclear war on Google over Android's many similarities to the original iOS and Samsung's many similarities to iPhone and iPad technologies.
Apple has also taken great pride in its culture of innovation, of figuring out the best ways to use new and emerging technology, as well as making it accessible through a great user experience, sometimes to the point where it would not adopt good ideas that didn't come from Apple. Many companies in the tech industry sensed this and figured they could copy Apple with abandon but not worry about the reverse.
Thus, it's been a real shock that Apple has copied signature components of its competition in recent years, very noticeably in iOS 7. Perhaps the warning shot for this change was iOS 6's adoption last year of Android's notification tray concept, a handy feature indeed.
iOS 7 takes several notions from Android and makes them central to iOS: The Command Center is clearly based on the quick-access portion of the Android notification tray, the new thumbnail view of running apps is also taken from Android (which took it from WebOS and has also been adopted by Windows 8), and the closing of apps by discarding them is taken from WebOS.
The new spartan "edge to edge" or "flat" look in iOS 7 -- including the typography cues -- is clearly inspired by Windows Phone, which broke ground several years ago with an ultrasimple, clean, starkly refreshing design unlike the competitors. Of course, that design notion is quote old, from the Bauhaus and related Germano-Scandinavian design schools we tend to think of as "modern." Apple chief designer Jonny Ive has long been a devotee of Bauhaus and the related schools -- of the Braun design approach in particular, which Jobs also followed.