The Copying of Smartphone Features, And Why Apple Is Doing A Better Job

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.”

The famous author Mark Twain was likely talking about writing and developing stories when he developed that sentiment, but in this day and age of technology, where companies give existing technology a new shine to stay ahead of the competition, it’s a mantra where tech companies improve upon an existing idea.

And these days, the winner is simply the one who markets it better.

No one realises that better than Southeast Asian neighbours, Malaysia and Singapore and the common food that is a part of both cultures. The delicious food of the Chinese, Malays, Indians and other cultures, from prawn noodles, roti prata, wonton noodles and nasi padang tastes better in Malaysia, but Singapore is better at marketing the familiar dishes to a global audience.

The hawker culture, which started as migrants from both countries set up food carts along busy streets to feed the masses, has progressed to a point where Malaysians mock the clean, sterile presentation of classic hawker food of their national neighbours, while Singaporeans take pride in the global recognition of their food culture, even as they pay a lot more for the same food items than their Malaysian counterparts.

And this battle of these two share many parallels between the hardcore Apple iOS fans, and the proud Android supporters. There’s a fundamental shared experience in the way users interact with both operating systems (OS) because they were developed based on existing interfaces, even if one side prefers to tout the many advantages one platform has over the other. It has come to a point where one group can accuse the other of copying features, as if the very act of duplicating a popular, well used feature means that the company is somehow inferior to the other.

Take for example what has fast become an annual routine – Apple announces a new flagship series of smartphones for the year with new features and offerings, and media who support the competitor platform would immediately dole out stories to show that Android had such features a while back, including more powerful smartphone cameras, and was simply waiting for Apple to catch up.

Apple’s Dynamic Island.

The irony though is that a few weeks later, Android developers openly copied Apple’s latest feature, Dynamic Island, to show that its platform is also capable of recreating such a feature, without acknowledging that Apple came up with a simple user interface that the competitor felt was worth copying. Not long after, Samsung closely mirrored the new wallpaper customisation that Apple introduced for iOS 16, even though Android has long touted a more fluid, customisable interface compared to Apple’s more stoic implementation.

Yes, smartphone makers including Motorola and more recently, Xiaomi, have announced and launched smartphones with 200MP cameras, courtesy of a new 200MP camera module by Samsung, who has surprisingly allowed its smartphone competitors to be the first to launch such a high-performing hardware.

Xiaomi 12T Pro.

Meanwhile, Samsung is leading the pack when it comes to its folding smartphones, the Fold and Flip, touting the use of new technologies to woo consumers with foldable gadgets. You can be sure that if and when Apple introduces powerful cameras or screen technologies in the future, they will always be reminded that the Android camp was first to market, making Apple a copycat.

Samsung Galaxy
Samsung Galaxy Flip 4 and Fold 4.

But Apple isn’t in a rush to always throw out new features to beat its own chest. We’ve all heard how Apple wants to get things right, instead of introducing a new feature that won’t catch on (revolving smartphone cameras anyone?) and each year, it has clearly demonstrated that being first means little to them. The new iPhone 14 Pro models just got a 48MP camera in 2022, but Huawei did so with a 50MP camera back in 2020. Curved, not foldable screens have been around since 2013, when Samsung launched the Galaxy Note variant then, but it never really caught on due to, possibly, a lack of real-world use or application, which shows that being first didn’t matter in this case.

These days, Apple’s latest iOS is a whole lot more versatile, customisable and fluid in its interface, putting Android’s robust reputation for customisation to shame. Professional photographers have been known to use iPhones as a camera replacement, more so than with any other Android brand, despite Android manufacturers working with the likes of camera greats Leica, Carl Zeiss or Hasselblad. There are more Android smartphones makers who have yet to launch accompanying smartwatches, while some of the ones who do, including Android’s own Google, can opt to not launch its latest smartwatch globally, which says a lot when a tech company does not have faith to launch its latest, hottest products in more markets.

Google Pixel Watch.

On the flip side, Android users get more advanced fast charging devices, smartphone cameras with higher resolution cameras, larger battery capacities and screen sizes, and at cheaper prices. But as our comparison between the food culture in Malaysia and Singapore – one side can have the better food, but the one who can market the same food better, with a more robust presentation and narrative/ecosystem, wins the brand leadership.

No smartphone launch event is more widely covered or well received than an Apple iPhone one, which would seem strange if, as Android fans are quick to point out, Apple were to launch a device with yesterday’s technology. 

Ultimately, technology is only part of the equation, and the combination of Apple Watch, iPad, AirPods, and Apple Stores that still generate long lines during launch day, shows the one fact that might be hard to swallow for some – someone is clearly better at marketing products with supposedly less flavour, more than the other guy who can’t seem to lead the way with supposedly superior offerings.