The Hills Are Greener: Stealing and Iteration

The Hills Are Greener: Stealing and Iteration

Oct 24, 2011

One interesting revelation came out from the Steve Jobs biography that was released to the press was that Steve thought Android was a “stolen product,” and that he would wage “thermonuclear war” in order to destroy the OS. Of course, this didn’t happen, and it’s ultimately for the best. Users can choose to buy Android phones with more customization and more device choices, or to buy iOS devices that feature a typically smoother and cleaner OS experience due to Apple’s vertical integration on iOS. Also, Apple has more cash than just about any other corporation, and is in the enviable position of outdoing their own lofty estimates, but having analysts think they’re able to do more. While Steve Jobs may be gone, he has left behind a technology behemoth in Apple that has a bright future ahead of it.

However, the problem with complaining about theivery is that rarely the person being ‘stolen’ from is innocent of that same thievery. While this article has a great rundown of why Steve Jobs and iOS are hardly innocent, one can even look at just iOS 5. After all, Notification Center is pretty much lifted directly from Android (or even just jailbreak extension Notified), along with non-obtrusive notification banners, custom messaging toes, geolocation reminders, speech-to-text dictation…many of these features existed in some form on Android.

See, here’s the thing, though. There’s a difference between stealing, and iteration. Namely, the improving of an already existing concept. That’s what iOS 5 did with Notification Center, offering a central system to organize notifications, the way they notify users, and to easily clear out individual apps’ notifications. In similar ways, Android iterated on iOS by offering homescreens that can serve only as access to the content users wnat to see with specific app shortcuts and widgets to help apps display information without actually going into the app. Iteration is healthy. Android has iterated on iOS features, iOS has iterated on Android. Mac has iterated on Windows, and Windows on Mac. Steve Jobs had, in his life, iterated on features he had seen and used in other products.

Iteration is necessary for improvement in technology. It happens on a daily basis, and it is ultimately a good thing. Outright stealing and copying is bad, but this is not what has occured with Android from iOS. A great discussion on iteration vs. cloning/stealing occurred on The Portable Podcast with Vlambeer, discussing the difference between what something like Ninja Fishing did versus what Muffin Knight did. There is a thin line between the two, but it is a big difference. The point is simple: tech companies need to make better products, and any one company won’t always be the first to have a great idea.

As the quote attributed to Pablo Picasso goes: “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”