I often hear the term “playing catch up” being used in reference to Apple and iOS, the insinuation being that Apple has somehow run out of ideas for the mobile OS and is now looking for them in its competitors’ products.

It’s true that Apple has adopted several features recently in iOS that have been seen in other mobile operating systems before. The most popular one that everyone likes to point out is Notification Center, which is admittedly a copy of the Android notification system.

But I’m not going to argue whether or not Apple has been playing catch up with its competitors. I’m going to point out the fact that everyone seems to be ignoring is that all this time the competitors have been playing catch up with Apple, and some of them still haven’t caught up in several key areas. Yet, no one seems to be talking about them. 

Let’s rewind our clocks by five years and look at all the things that Apple brought to the world of mobile phones with the announcement of the first iPhone.

  • A UI that could be operated using your fingers alone without the need of a stylus
  • Capacitive touchscreen
  • Multi-touch display
  • Momentum scrolling
  • A keyboard that could be used to type using your fingers with an incredible auto-correct system
  • A desktop-grade web browser in the palm of your hands
  • An application store where you could purchase and download applications from (it wasn’t launched with the first iPhone but it was announced or mentioned back then, feel free to correct me)

I’m pretty sure I’m missing a few more but those are the major ones. Now look at how long it took the competition to catch up to these feature. Android, which is considered the biggest competitor to iOS, took seven versions to reach the UI smoothness that Apple achieved with the first version of the iPhone with that (now) archaic hardware. And it’s still not perfect. The keyboard still sucks and cannot match the accuracy of the iOS keyboard found on the original iPhone.

Other things took time to develop on Android, too and it’s only now, after it has gone through so many iterations, that it can come close to matching the experience that Apple provided five years ago. 

Note that the things mentioned here are fundamental things that you face every time you use your phone. These are essential part of the device you are using that can make or break the user experience. You can live without fancy notification system or multi-tasking but you cannot live with a slow and sluggish UI that is a nightmare to use with your fingers.

Also, the features that were said to be missing from prior versions of iOS have existed even before the iPhone was announced. Things like multi-tasking, copy-paste and Bluetooth file transfers. Apple could have added those features if it wanted to but it was a conscious decision to avoid having those features at that time. Whereas not having basic things such as a smooth UI and a usable keyboards in the early versions of Android point towards the inability to get these features right.

The difference between Apple and others is that Apple got the basics right straight out of the gate. It was only then that it started implementing additional features that were deemed useful. Others, however, are still struggling to get the basics right.

And they say Apple is playing catch up.