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Android vs. iOS: Why the “Simpsons did it” argument means nothing [OPINION]

June 6, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka



South Park character Butters became a supervillain named Professor Chaos, determined to bring havoc on his snowy little town. The only problem was that every diabolic scheme he could think of had already been a plot of a Simpsons episode. Professor Chaos could have sparked mayhem, but he was hobbled because he didn’t want to replicate something people had already seen.

I couldn’t help but think of that memorable South Park episode as everyone on Twitter exploded about Apple shamelessly copying Android and RIM. In iOS5, Apple ripped off Android and introduced features you’ve likely enjoyed for almost three years: wireless app and contact syncing; integration of Twitter into the OS; tabbed browsing; a better email app, and much more. The famed fruit company even copied RIM’s crown jewel and announced iMessages, a BBM clone. None of this was new, and nobody should care. As Ashley Esqueda points out, who did it first doesn’t matter. Who does it best matters.

It’s fun to point out that Apple trumpets its innovation but spent most of today’s WWDC keynote gushing over features that I used 3 years and 2 phones ago. But if Apple ends up introducing a better system, the average consumer will not care. If Apple manages to come late to the game and play it better, the headline should be, “Apple wins,” not “Apple is late.” (Of course, that’s assuming Apple is better, a notion I don’t accept and we won’t be able to confirm or deny until this fall.)

Apple today announced an iCloud system and OS changes that integrate everything into one neat little package. A photo is taken and it’s uploaded to the cloud. Documents and downloaded files are automatically uploaded to the cloud. A song is purchased on iTunes and it’s downloaded to your iPhone and iPad. This is exactly the kind of thing that Google should be working on. Yes, you can upload or view images to Picasa, but its not automatic. Yes, you can autosave to Google Docs, but what about when I use desktop/mobile Office software? Yes, I can stream from Google Music, but the music that I buy from Amazon has to then be uploaded manually to Google Music. The goal of every cloud-based solution should be to simplify the process and make it as easy as possible to switch from one device to the next. That’s what Apple set out to do today, and that’s what Android should already have.

Android does practically everything that Apple announced for iOS 5. The issue here is more about execution than ideas. We all know that Android is the better platform, right? Well, why settle for better? Why not pressure the people who build for Android to be as good and intuitive as they possibly can? HTC was not the first to introduce an Android phone with toggles and music controls in the notifications window. Ask anyone using the latest version of Sense if they care that Samsung did it first.

Karl Benz and Henry Ford didn’t invent the concepts of the automobile, but their names and companies survive because they did it better than the competitors of their eras. Likewise, Android users should be more concerned about phone makers implementing things better than we’ve already seen. I’m not buying an iPhone and don’t care if Apple decides to copy Google. I’d rather focus that energy to pressure Open Handset Alliance members to keep improving their work to reaffirm why Android is still the best option for me.