I know, it’s almost a blasphemous headline, and I can feel the comments system bracing itself for impact even before anyone has read a word of my arguments. Especially as Apple has engaged in lengthy lawsuits against Samsung for copying its own features.
But while Apple doesn’t blindly copy, it does learn from other companies, and it does so all the time. Indeed, you could say it’s one of the key things that sets Apple apart in the tech world: it doesn’t scrabble to be first to market with new technology. Apple instead sits back and watches, looks at what other companies do and then figures out how to create a better version.
Touch ID is a classic example. Fingerprint readers have been around forever in laptops, and Motorola put one into a smartphone – the Atrix – way back in 2011. But early fingerprint readers were inconvenient, requiring you to scroll your finger across them, and unreliable. Apple waited until it could do the job properly.
So what are some of the things Android manufacturers have done that I think Apple could usefully learn from … ?
iPhones are expensive devices, and while home insurance or AppleCare+ can lessen the financial pain, there’s also the hassle factor of getting a phone repaired or replaced. No matter how careful we may be with our phones, spills and drops in water can happen.
Sony led the way with waterproofing phones, working for a long time on varying levels of water-resistance before launching the first fully waterproof phone, the Xperia Z, back in 2013. The phone could even be used underwater, its advertising showing someone using it to take photos while swimming with their family.
Sony has admittedly cut back on the level of waterproofing offered in its latest model, likely for cost reasons, but other manufacturers also offer completely waterproof phones. Samsung, for example, launched its fully waterproof Galaxy S4 Active, also in 2013.
Still on the topic of protection, Apple has steadily increased the strength of the glass used in its iPhones, but they still can and do break. Motorola last week announced the DROID Turbo 2, whose headline feature is what the company claims is a completely shatterproof display. We’ll have to wait to discover whether the claim is true, of course, but it’s not a statement the company will have made lightly.
Now, you can of course argue that it’s not in Apple’s financial interests to make iPhones waterproof and shatterproof: a decent chunk of income is generated by replacing damaged or destroyed devices. But Tim Cook has said on a number of occasions that Apple tries to do the right thing even if it comes at a financial cost – citing accessibility functions and environmental friendliness as examples.
Similarly, you could argue that those who want to protect their phones can buy a case. But it’s always struck me as crazy that Apple goes to enormous lengths to make sleek, slim phones and then the first thing almost everyone I know does is hide it away inside a case. Making the phone itself more robust has to be a better way to go.
The speakers in the iPhone are reasonably impressive, but there are Android handsets with better ones.
Play a movie on an iPhone 6s and an HTC One M9, with its BoomSound and Dolby Audio features, and there’s just no comparison. Both the 24-bit audio and the front-facing speaker make a huge difference. And HTC isn’t really in a position to object to Apple borrowing a feature …
The new Moto phones, too, manage to fit in front-facing speakers without needing much space beneath the screen to do it – the Moto X Style/Pure being a prime example.
When Apple was first working on the iPhone, Steve Jobs was insistent that nothing should detract from the display. He wanted as few buttons and switches as possible. It was, he argued, all about the screen.
It was also an aim Apple had with the Watch, going to a great deal of trouble to achieve such a deep black in the display that it blends invisibly into the surrounds, giving it a bezel-less appearance.
Apple pulled off another optical illusion with the iPhone 6. By making the edges rounded, falling away from the display, it makes the bezel look thinner than it really is, because your eye sees the edge of the black glass and kind of ignores the fact there’s some aluminum sticking out beyond it. In reality, the total bezel thickness is very similar to the iPhone 5.
Look at the above photo of an iPhone 6s next to the Sharp Aquos Crystal 2 and tell me you aren’t just a little bit jealous of those insanely-thin bezels? And that’s just a mid-range Android phone from last year – you can pick one up now for less than a hundred bucks. (I’m almost tempted to get one as a spare phone …)
Depending on how you hold your phone, you could argue that ultra-thin bezels would result in accidental touches, but the size phones are now, I think most people cup them in their hands rather than wrap their fingers around them, so I’m not convinced this would be an issue.
Finally, if there’s one iPhone complaint I hear about the iPhone above all else it’s the battery-life. Apple’s argument about this is two-fold. First, the company aims to find the optimum balance of battery-life versus slimness. Second, iPhones have lower power needs than Android phones because the integration of hardware and software makes them so much more efficient.
The iPhone 6s has a 1715mAh battery in a device measuring 138x67x6.9mm. The Samsung Galaxy S6 is very slightly longer and wider, though a touch thinner, at 143x70x6.8mm. Yet in that tiny bit of extra space it accommodates a 2250mAh battery. I suspect that’s a size hit many would be willing to take for 30% longer battery-life.
So, are my views blasphemy, or do they have some merit? As ever, let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Top image: iPhone 7 concept by Martin Hajek