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It's not stealing when Apple does it, because it wasn't stealing when Google did it either

It's not stealing when Apple does it, because it wasn't stealing when Google did it either
Every time there are new features announced for iOS, there is an uproar around the web about Apple "stealing" features. I have talked before about why I think this is a silly argument, but I wanted to put up a refresher on the idea, because the claims simply won't die out. Here's the simple reason: it's not stealing when Apple does it, because it wasn't stealing when Google did it either.

The elephant

First, I have to address the elephant that is always in the room when talking about Apple: lawsuits. Look, no one likes a company that is overly litigious, and Apple certainly fits that bill. Or, at least Apple did fit that bill in the past. I know that Apple is still locked in litigation with a number of different companies, including Samsung and Motorola; but, I feel it's important to note that all of those lawsuits began while Steve Jobs was still CEO

It's not stealing when Apple does it, because it wasn't stealing when Google did it either
New CEO Tim Cook has expressed his distaste for lawsuits, and aside from the battles that started before his time, I can't find evidence of a lawsuit that has been filed by Apple since he took over the company two years ago. There have been the endless loop of countersuits with Samsung, but at this point that mess is just as much Samsung's fault as Apple's.

Obviously, this is a fairly short time period, but as I said when Tim Cook first took over the company, we need to put away the ideas about Apple that we had during Steve Jobs' time, and stop judging the company by Steve Jobs, because the company reflects its leader, and its leader is very different than the man who made the company famous. 

Yes, Tim Cook could likely put an end to the lawsuits in progress (assuming the companies that have countersued would also agree to ending the wars), but there are signs that Apple is changing, and we should pay attention to that. 

The accusations and the real world

First of all, I know that Apple has a dodgy past with claiming a feature is new, original, and unique to iOS when it already exists on another platform, but I didn't see it this time with the WWDC keynote. Remember, there is a difference between saying this is a "new feature" and saying this is "a unique feature to iOS". Of course what was shown off are new features, because iOS users haven't had them before, and those are the people Apple is speaking to in these announcements. And, obviously the features will be "innovative" for users, because again iOS users haven't had these features before.

In the past, maybe I've been a bit too philosophical and abstract, saying that nothing has been stolen because everything is built on ideas that came before it. I thought that was a fairly straightforward argument, but every time the argument pops up again, it seems that the ones calling out Apple for stealing don't have a memory that extends beyond Apple's direct competition. The trouble is that none of the features Apple is being accused of "stealing" were original ideas on Android or Windows Phone either. When Apple first added folders to iOS, we heard calls of "stealing from Android", but when Android added folders, did we also hear the calls of "stealing from Apple" or "stealing from that filing cabinet by my desk"?

Let's run down the list: 

  1. That multitasking UI wasn't seen first in Windows Phone 8, it goes back to webOS, and even desktops before that. 
  2. Google stole Quick Settings from Zenith!

    Google stole Quick Settings from Zenith!

    Control Center didn't start with Android 4.2, it's just a set of quick toggles that you could find on webOS or a desktop before that, and even farther back (as you can see on the right). 
  3. AirDrop/Beam/Group Play are all just variations on previous standards like DLNA for local devices, or Bluetooth sharing which goes back to feature phones. 
  4. Tabbed browsing didn't start with Google Chrome, it was available on Firefox before Chrome; and even before that, there was a browser in 1994 called "InternetWorks" that had offered a tabbed interface. 
  5. Password autofill also didn't start with Chrome, it goes back to 1Password, LastPass, and plenty of other programs before that. 
  6. Live wallpapers didn't start with Android, it first showed up in desktop Windows.
  7. The notification center didn't start with Android, but has roots in desktop systems like Growl, the Windows taskbar, and even in the analog world.

That's another thing we all need to keep in mind. Anything created on a computer screen also has roots in the real world. A notification tray makes sense because we're used to having notifications centralized, like in our mailbox outside, or the answering machine attached to a phone. Quick toggles make sense because we are so used to using remote controls. Tabs were used in binders well before browsers. Password saving used to be done in notebooks and sticky notes. Live wallpapers are called windows, because the world outside moves. Sharing makes sense because we're all human, and we like to show friends cool things, even stuff we found in the dirt while walking to school. 

Basic features and trends

These different features keep popping up in various mobile systems, not because one company is determined to copy another, but because we're starting to reach a consensus on what basic features should exist in all mobile operating systems. The original Windows back in 1985 wasn't copying Apple's OS released the year before, it just so happened that people understood the idea of folders (you know, from having them on their physical desks for years and years), and a window was the best way to represent that on a screen. 

It's not stealing when Apple does it, because it wasn't stealing when Google did it either
Notification trays are the best way to organize a rush of data and keep it from being too intrusive, but still have quick access to it at all times. The best way to switch between apps is to see screenshots of each app, so you can find things easier. And, you can put pictures of the Windows Phone 8 calendar and calculator apps next to the iOS 7 versions, or even the Android versions, but that doesn't prove anything. If you really think any of these things are copying, just answer one question: how else would you propose a company design these solutions, especially the digital objects that have had standardized layouts in the analog world for generations? 

If we go beyond the features to the design aspect of things, the arguments don't get any better. The overall trend in design right now is in a type of modern minimalism, which unfortunately is going to lead to a certain amount of overlap. Users don't want to see different design just for the sake of being different. They want something that makes sense, something that is familiar, but maybe has a fresh idea or two to make certain actions easier. There's a reason why Windows has used the same basic UI for such a long time, and why so many have rebelled against the massive shift that happened with the Windows 8 UI. The same thing happened in the Linux community with the shift from GNOME 2 (a very Windows-like UI) to GNOME 3 (more minimalist, and more like MacOS really, just with more customization options and keyboard shortcuts.) 


Sure, Apple has added a number of features that look a lot like what we've seen on other mobile operating systems. But, we have to be careful about tossing around the term "stealing", because 1) that implies that these features never existed before they appeared on the other mobile operating systems, which is almost never the case; and, 2) it also implies that Apple has claimed it is the first to offer these options, which is also not true. Remember, Apple directly referred to Android Beam/S Beam in its keynote when talking about AirDrop. 

If you want to call it stealing, then you have to extend your memory and call out Google, Microsoft, BlackBerry, Palm, Canonical, and every other software maker for stealing as well, because everything we're seeing in mobile operating systems has come before both in desktop systems and in some form in the real world that exists outside of your computer.

  • Options

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 16:25 23

1. tedkord (Posts: 9706; Member since: 17 Jun 2009)

Watch out, Michael. Both sides are gunning for you now.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 16:31 15

5. biophone (Posts: 1909; Member since: 15 Jun 2011)

Such is the problem with being unbiased. Any rational person regardless of os prefrence isn't gunning for him though.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 17:09 27

46. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2698; Member since: 26 May 2011)

If everyone disagrees with me, I'm either doing my job really well or really poorly. I'm just aiming for the former.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 18:00 11

74. the_best (Posts: 139; Member since: 14 Oct 2012)

The problem isnt that we Think that they are stealing.
The problem is that companies as apple, microsoft, google and so on keep claiming that everybody else is stealing from them even if its true or not.

And when people see these obvius thefts they get angry because these big companies never get what they deserve.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 18:04 19

78. ihatesmartphone (unregistered)


posted on 13 Jun 2013, 18:20

89. taz89 (Posts: 2014; Member since: 03 May 2011)

Like you I've always felt that it's not stealing and everyone b copies ideas and builds of one another.. The issue I've always had is with apples hypocrisy..you said not to judge them by Steve jobs apple but imo it looks like they still trying to run apple the Steve jobs way.. Am pretty sure they are seeing over the s3 and s4 and they were after Steve lobs death.. True apple not the only one in litigation but in most cases if anyone is suing apple it's usually just to defend themselves.. I hope your right the "new" apple will not be suing over petty things and I know it's just as much the fault of the dumbest patent system ever that these lawsuits even exist..

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 18:49 11

106. Dr.Phil (Posts: 1095; Member since: 14 Feb 2011)

I thought it was a good article. I don't view the features shared by iOS, Android, and WP8 as copying each other or stealing from each other, but rather I view it in the sense of which company is actually leading and which company is just a follower. If a company is just adding features that have already existed for months or years to its devices, then to me they aren't the real leaders or innovators in the mobile space. If, however, they bring something new and innovative that others then want to put onto their devices, then they are the true leader in that respect. So, the question then becomes: with the recent introduction of iOS 7, was Apple a leader or a follower?

It looks like the readers have already made up their minds.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 20:45

145. buccob (Posts: 2481; Member since: 19 Jun 2012)

Exactly my thoughts. Thumbs up for you Dr.

And there are ways to innovate without strictly following... its true you don't have to re-invent the wheel every single time, but there are other ways to add functionality while keeping aesthetics and simplicity.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 20:53

149. Dorothy69 (banned) (Posts: 498; Member since: 21 May 2013)

I completely disagree. First and foremost: tldr!!
Secondly, the tidbits I was able to quickly scan over and process with my bionic vision implied a comparison between various desktop platforms and Android (or Google Chrome) and, therefore, I am at an utter loss as to how these analogies apply specifically to two mobile operating systems, Android and iOS, respectively??

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 21:19 4

152. Dr.Phil (Posts: 1095; Member since: 14 Feb 2011)

Perhaps you should read the article then and maybe you would know why he made those comparisons. I don't understand how someone can say they disagree with something when all they did was scan through the entire article. You missed a lot of important points.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 21:25

154. datoserigarylaw (unregistered)


posted on 13 Jun 2013, 18:54 2

112. Stuntman (Posts: 834; Member since: 01 Aug 2011)

I think the quality of the comments here reflect that you are doing your job well.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 21:30 1

155. a_tumiwa (Posts: 373; Member since: 16 Mar 2012)

so Michael, do u agree that Apple is wrong when they started a patent war against Samsung and the others?

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 21:46

157. VZWuser76 (Posts: 3562; Member since: 04 Mar 2010)

See I've been saying something similar to this for awhile now. I'd mention a feature that was supposedly new, and then bring up that they've had that feature on desktops & laptops for quite awhile. The response I'd always get was "Yeah, but this is on a phone!" So what? A smartphone is basically a pocket computer with radios to make wireless calls. All of these OSs for these phones could work or be adapted to work on a non mobile platform. So rather than re-issuing patents for mobile, they should go off of the original patent that's applicable, whether desktop or mobile. I'd bet a lot of the patents that people are suing over would be invalid because what they did was adapt someone else's patent to work on their device, and figured since it's on a mobile device that's new ground.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 23:15

171. joey_sfb (Posts: 5205; Member since: 29 Mar 2012)

I agree with you 100% that why Samsung and the rest of the world was shock when Apple sue Samsung over their design patent.

Now everyone want to sue every body else over design and software patents. Learn about the new Oracle and Google follow-up law suit. Oracle and Microsoft wants more protection over their codes.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 23:17 1

172. Mittal (Posts: 493; Member since: 14 Dec 2011)

your thoughts on features having been present in other devices/platforms in some form or the other makes sense. But when we talk about taking inspiration from real life scenarios, to some extent , yes, we can say that its not a case of pure genious, but we must credit the first company to adopt that feature for its farsightedness and confidence to do the new thing in the electronic world.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 23:40 1

174. haroonazeem638 (Posts: 138; Member since: 29 Mar 2011)

It is not the stealing part that should really bother anyone. With so many advancements in technology, it is almost impossible to come up with something that may not have existed before. This is because every new technology MUST depend on older technologies. Otherwise, it's like saying that everyone has been stealing from GOD.

The reason why Apple is highlighted in this issue most is because of the terms they use when introducing products. You can't copy something and call it innovative or new or whatever term you want to use. You copied it, fine! Move on. So there IS a difference here.

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 01:26

184. Anti-troll-returns (banned) (Posts: 11; Member since: 14 Jun 2013)

Stop putting ban on me.

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 07:51 1

207. JunitoNH (Posts: 1566; Member since: 15 Feb 2012)


This is the reason adults run the world, not children. Fantasy is one thing, reality a whole different story.

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 18:05

224. jroc74 (Posts: 5967; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)

I agree with this article, Michael. I just wish an article like this popped up when soooo many fanboys accused Google, Android of copying Apple, iOS.

So...in that sense expect some backlash for this article....lol.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 16:28 25

2. Anti-Troll (banned) (Posts: 64; Member since: 12 Jun 2013)

And yet you are calling yourself unbiased.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 16:30 49

4. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2698; Member since: 26 May 2011)

And, there's the first person to completely misread the article...

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 16:34 5

8. Anti-Troll (banned) (Posts: 64; Member since: 12 Jun 2013)

Thanks for replying. This is the first time that you have replied me.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 20:37 1

141. TROLL (banned) (Posts: 4851; Member since: 13 Apr 2012)

Cause you're new to PA®

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 01:27

185. Anti-troll-returns (banned) (Posts: 11; Member since: 14 Jun 2013)

I am not new kiddo.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 16:37 15

11. Anti-Troll (banned) (Posts: 64; Member since: 12 Jun 2013)

But the point is.. They steal from it others. patent it and yet call it "innovation". They even sue others. That is not fair.
For Example: iOS 7 multitasking is copied from WebOS/WP8 multitasking, did they gave credits? No.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 16:42 11

17. feres13 (Posts: 306; Member since: 23 Dec 2011)

Has MS gave credits to WebOS when they copied their Multitasking UI in WP?? No

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 16:53 18

27. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2698; Member since: 26 May 2011)

Ah feres got my point exactly

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 23:42 1

175. haroonazeem638 (Posts: 138; Member since: 29 Mar 2011)

YES, but when Apple copies, they also go to court for silly things they didn't really invent.

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 01:28 2

186. Anti-troll-returns (banned) (Posts: 11; Member since: 14 Jun 2013)

But still they are not calling it like "revolutionary" or "innovation".
Please accept the facts.

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 01:29 1

187. Anti-troll-returns (banned) (Posts: 11; Member since: 14 Jun 2013)


posted on 14 Jun 2013, 03:48 1

194. ihatesmartphone (unregistered)

Seems that phoneareana are out of control...

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 17:01 1

40. Hallucinator (Posts: 344; Member since: 24 May 2010)

how could they have copied it from wp8 when ms copied it from web os and so on?

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 17:37 3

65. -box- (Posts: 3991; Member since: 04 Jan 2012)

THAT is a point I will give. The overall concept of the article is correct to my viewpoint, but when apple dates to copy something seen as standard or that predates it, and then goes to court over it (which, as Michael H stated, seems to not have happened in the last couple years), it is a severe breach of, well not sure what to call it, decency or a universal agreement not to be jerks?

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 17:05 14

42. darkkjedii (Posts: 19196; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)

Extremely well written, and intelligent article Michael. 100% agreed +100 lol.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 17:10 15

47. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2698; Member since: 26 May 2011)

I'm gonna have to talk to the guys upstairs about adding a "+100 lol" button

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 17:20 1

55. iamfoolhehe (Posts: 28; Member since: 03 Jun 2013)

Michael bro.
This is a offtopic..its very rare to get you .
Can you add battery test along with reviews like gsmarena do?
Can you the upstairs guys ;)

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 17:21

58. iamfoolhehe (Posts: 28; Member since: 03 Jun 2013)

Can you ask*

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 17:41 5

68. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2698; Member since: 26 May 2011)

I'll mention it to the others, for sure!

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 10:33

209. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2698; Member since: 26 May 2011)

I checked with the editors, and I've been told we are working on adding more extensive battery testing to reviews.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 20:56 2

150. Dorothy69 (banned) (Posts: 498; Member since: 21 May 2013)

I completely disagree; tldr and pointless.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 23:02 1

169. Charlie_boy (Posts: 69; Member since: 04 Jan 2013)

how can one disagree with something they havent read?
One has to understand it first before disagreeing...

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 00:10

177. duckymomo26 (Posts: 19; Member since: 01 Jun 2012)

I would also have to disagree with your existence. Its also pointless why you have to live.

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 04:38 1

203. ghaniosman (Posts: 78; Member since: 06 Jun 2013)

If thats the case apple should make their patents like 'pinch to zoom' and 'slide to unlock' and 'rectangular device with rounded corners and screen in the middle and a thin profile' (can u believe that ridiculous sentence is a registered patent) to make them universal standard and if not get ready for excepting taunts of 'stealing' which r valid..

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 20:05

135. Gawain (Posts: 417; Member since: 15 Apr 2010)

You've obviously missed Michael's articles about Google and Android...he's pretty much all-in with Google/Android etc.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 16:29 9

3. biophone (Posts: 1909; Member since: 15 Jun 2011)

Good article mike.

I don't have any problem with "stealing" as long as one company isn't trying to steal another's brand identity. Otherwise its just building upon others which is smart.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 17:00 6

39. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2698; Member since: 26 May 2011)


posted on 13 Jun 2013, 17:12 8

50. maxican16 (Posts: 364; Member since: 29 Sep 2011)

I agree. Well put article. One of these days I'll get over hating Apple.. one of these days. Your point about it not being Jobs company actually helped quite a bit. I just can't see Cook saying something as ridiculous as "going thermonuclear" on a company.

That said, I don't hate the people that use their products. I'm happy my iOS friends are getting these "new" features.

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 01:30

188. Anti-troll-returns (banned) (Posts: 11; Member since: 14 Jun 2013)

Thanks to you also for putting ban on me.

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 10:34

210. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2698; Member since: 26 May 2011)

Sorry, but I never even gave you a warning.

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 16:18

222. Potato. (banned) (Posts: 607; Member since: 14 Jun 2013)

Eh, sorry. Off the topic. But I can see Anti-troll-returns is banned. Just asking.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 17:02 4

41. gustavoace (Posts: 173; Member since: 13 Nov 2012)

I think exactly the same way. Some features are great, and I want it on my phone, regardless the OS. But Apple crossed all the lines with the copying thing, patenting ridiculous things (e.g. the rectangular with round corners design), and now everyone else accuses them of stealing. Karma is a bitch.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 17:46 2

70. biophone (Posts: 1909; Member since: 15 Jun 2011)

Copying things I feel is ok as I stated as long as they aren't trying to steal brand identity.

The patents were redic however its the uspto fault for putting them through

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 04:07

196. tedkord (Posts: 9706; Member since: 17 Jun 2009)

The USPTO is definitely effed up, but Apple its just as much to blame. If you take advantage of a messed up system, you are at fault.

If I use an ATM, and it starts spitting money at me from everyone else's account, keeping it would be wrong on my part. Returning and doing it again would make me a pretty awful person. It would be the banks fault for having a faulty ATM, but I know the difference between right and wrong.

Apple walks right up to that ATM, and time and again withdraws all the money and tells us to blame the bank.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 16:32 2

6. TechWorld_Observer (Posts: 15; Member since: 17 Aug 2011)

Remember the first iPhone? No really innovation as there were many features already on contemporary phones at the time, but Apple was able to put the top features from each phone into the iPhone, not real innovation, right? simple, any company COULD do it, but never did. Worst thing about it is that these other companies knew about it and yet they wanted to keep selling junk. Yes, you remember, ugly designs, buggy software, gosh you had to keep messing with the software features all the time (if you could) just to get your phone to a satisfying point.

A TV screen, an existing circuit board, a few other existing components, they just put them all together into one product... the PC. All easy, right, no true innovation at this, any boy could do this in their parents garage.

What's the lesson here?

posted on 14 Jun 2013, 06:30

206. Sauce (unregistered)

Last time I checked there still are ugly & hideous designs, buggy software, as well as still having to mess with the software to get your "awesome" phone. This is why I left android for windows and iOS.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 16:34 20

7. RORYREVOLUTION (Posts: 3103; Member since: 12 Jan 2010)

Everyone knows that every company in the world "steals/borrows" from their competition, they make it better and improve on it, advance it as much as possible. Nobody has a problem with that, we have a problem with the fact that Apple has stolen ideas from the very start and then had the nerve to try to ban and sue the hell out of their competition when they themselves are no better.

But sure, we can pretend that Apple isn't a money hogging billion dollar corporation that steals from their own developers and takes the credit for themselves and tries to bully and scare competition right out the door.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 16:36

9. biophone (Posts: 1909; Member since: 15 Jun 2011)

Michael mentioned that. Apple hasn't started any lawsuits under Tim cook. That was a jobs thing and he isn't part of apple anymore.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 18:16 1

85. Stuntman (Posts: 834; Member since: 01 Aug 2011)

That is true, but many people still see Jobs as the face of Apple and still remember those lawsuits while he was running the company. I don't know how long it will be before that perception changes.

posted on 13 Jun 2013, 19:35

125. roscuthiii (Posts: 2127; Member since: 18 Jul 2010)

Until the current cases are resolved most likely.

And then of course there has to be no new anti-competitive lawsuits filed.

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