Microsoft Exec Is Correct: Apple Is Copying Windows Phone, Others in iOS 5

Microsoft Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore unleashed a few tweets on Twitter in the wake of Apple's WWDC 2011 keynote address, accurately flagging the features in the upcoming release of iOS that directly copy features already available in (or in some cases, announced for) Windows Phone. The comments set off an odd firestorm, given that his charge is completely accurate.

"Feeling flattered today," the first Belfiore tweet reads. "Lots of great [Windows Phone] ideas headed to iOS. Camera button/above lock, auto-upload of pics, better notifications."

"Feeling flattered today part 2," the second tweet begins. "Wi-Fi sync, built-in Twitter, background download service, short-messaging chats (though we do Facebook [too]!)"

Without getting into the childish reaction I've seen to these tweets in various tech blogs and news sites, suffice it to say that Belfiore is correct. Apple's upcoming iOS 5 release—which will power recently released versions of the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad—does indeed copy features in Windows Phone, as well as some notable features in Google Android and Research in Motion's (RIM's) BlackBerry. I wrote about this issue extensively in my overview of the WWDC 2011 keynote on the SuperSite for Windows.

But let's focus on Windows Phone. Here are the features Belfiore is calling out.

Camera improvements. When Windows Phone debuted last year, one of the most-touted features of the new system—and one that subsequently starred in at least one TV commercial—was that its users could take their phone out of their pocket and immediately take a picture thanks to the hardware camera button and unique "pocket to picture" functionality of the platform. On the iPhone, meanwhile, users would need first to fumble with the lock screen, locate the correct home screen, find the Camera app, launch it, and then wait for it to load before they could take a picture. So in iOS 5, Apple is adding a Camera icon to the lock screen and allowing the Volume Up button to function like a camera shutter button, effectively copying this very useful Windows Phone feature.

Auto-uploading of pictures. Windows Phone 7 includes the ability to automatically upload each picture taken with the camera to either Windows Live SkyDrive or Facebook. On the iPhone, users need to manually upload photos, using a third-party app they need to find, install, and then configure. So Apple is adding the ability to auto-upload pictures from iOS devices to iCloud, a service that will debut late this year.

Notifications. Windows Phone includes a non-invasive notification system that presents an overlay at the top of the screen that doesn't interrupt the current activity, so you can choose to ignore it or swipe over it to dismiss the notification. Meanwhile, iOS notifications present an annoying modal dialog box that interrupts whatever you're doing—including if you're playing a game—forcing you to address the notification immediately. So Apple is changing notifications in iOS 5 so that (you guessed it) they appear as non-modal overlays on the top of the screen that the user can simply ignore.

Wi-Fi device sync. Microsoft debuted Wi-Fi sync in the Zune years ago and continued offering this feature with Windows Phone last year. Apple, curiously and to great criticism, has never offered Wi-Fi sync with any of its iPods or iOS-based devices. But the company will be adding this functionality, very belatedly, in iOS 5.

Integrated Twitter. Windows Phone currently offers an integrated Facebook experience in Windows Phone and Microsoft announced in January that it would be adding integrated Twitter to the next release, dubbed "Mango," and due sometime this year. (Mango is also gaining integrated LinkedIn support.) To date, iOS has simply required those wishing to access third-party services to find and install individual apps, and these apps don't offer any integration with the core OS or its built-in apps. In iOS 5, finally, Apple is adding integrated Twitter (but not Facebook—which is arguably a lot more valuable—or LinkedIn) too.

Background download service. Microsoft announced in March that Mango would include a background download service with delta update capabilities, allowing third-party apps to utilize this functionality, but the core OS has had this feature since the 2010 launch. After four years in the market, iOS will finally add a background download service (with delta update capabilities).

Short-messaging chats. Microsoft announced in May that Mango would include a centralized messaging infrastructure that combines Facebook, Windows Live Messenger, SMS, and MMS chatting capabilities. This week, Apple announced that iOS 5 will provide a proprietary messaging service, iMessage, that only works between devices running iOS 5. Critics charge that this feature most closely resembles RIM's BlackBerry Messaging Service (BMS), which it does. But the Mango service is both more useful and more open.

So what's the controversy here? From what I can see, the score is Belfiore 7, Apple apologists 0.
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