During their infancy, it was very easy to distinguish between Android and iOS. Apple’s mobile operating system was well-designed and easy to use. Google’s Android was customisable and flexible. As the years passed by though, you could see both operating systems learn from each other, to the point where both are now more similar than ever before.
Android started becoming more beautiful with the introduction of Material Design in 2014, the same year that iOS started becoming more flexible, with iOS 7 adding features such as multitasking and Control Center. Even comparing the two most recent versions - iOS 10 and Android 7.0 Nougat - there are features that have crossed over on either side. For example, quick replies from the notification bar, and 3D-Touch-esque quick shortcuts on home screen icons, are things Android took from iOS.
At the same time, iOS 10 took inspiration from Google Photos in the way it uses face and object recognition to auto-organise photos, and in how the Mail app now has an easy to reach unsubscribe button for mailers you receive, something Gmail has had for over a year.
Having said that, we hope that the two biggest players in the world also pay attention to some interesting ideas other competitors came up with, ideas that are futile now because those companies have lost ground in the smartphone space to the big two. We’re of course referring to ‘the other’ mobile operating systems, BlackBerry 10, Windows 10 Mobile, and Ubuntu Touch, that together constitute less than one percent of the total smartphone market share in recent times. Here are five interesting things these companies worked upon, which we hope Apple, Google, or both will take ‘inspiration’ from:
1) BlackBerry Hub
The erstwhile smartphone champion may have been onto something in 2013, when a feature called BlackBerry Hub was introduced in BlackBerry 10 OS. It collated email, SMS, call and other notifications into a chronological view.
Right now, there’s a good chance there are at least three to four instant messengers you may have installed on your phone, and different people interact with you using different services. What if there was a messaging hub of sorts, where all your chats, maybe emails and calls too, would show in one place, irrespective of whether you received them on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or Slack?
It would be a lot easier than having to open each messaging app and look at pending conversations. You could send quick replies to messages from right there, or jump into the respective apps for more actions. This idea is certainly worth exploring for Apple and Google. App developers certainly would be interested in integrating with this hypothetical ‘Hub’, if either OS were to create it.
2) Notification syncing between devices
Microsoft introduced notification syncing between PCs and Windows 10 Mobile or Android, which as simple as it sounds, synced notifications between the computer and phone. This kind of syncing can be very useful when you’ve already attended a notification on one device, but still need to clear it from another.
There are services like Facebook Messenger, and Slack, which are proactively programmed to save us from notification hell. But not every app maker takes these efforts, so it’ll be nice if the OS makers themselves figured out a way to tie notifications from computer and mobile versions of the same app, so that we can avoid this duplication.
3) Microsoft Display Dock or Ubuntu Convergence
In recent times, there have been two unsuccessful attempts at making the smartphone the only computing device you’ll never need. Both had the same approach - using smartphone hardware to power a full computing experience. By making it easy to connect a keyboard, mouse, and monitor to a phone, the idea was that you wouldn’t need to carry a separate computer to work.
Microsoft even sold a product called Display Dock that had HDMI and full USB ports to connect peripherals on one side and a USB Type-C to connect a Lumia 950 or Lumia 950 XL on the other. The idea might not have taken off for several reasons - but we imagine one of them was the lack of apps for the Windows 10 platform. Of course, another issue was that very few people were buying Lumia smartphones. Ubuntu OS came up with a similar feature, though the platform never really took off.
Now consider a similar dock being available for an Android phone or an iPhone. Would that not pique your interest towards the BYOD setup described above? The main difference between this and the attempts before - access to all your favourite apps from Google Play or Apple’s App Store, which should (theoretically at least) greatly enhance the feature’s appeal.
4) Pressure sensing
Did you know that Microsoft was working its own version of 3D Touch much before the iPhone 6s? It isn’t exactly like Apple’s implementation - instead of sensing pressure applied on the screen, the phone could detect finger position even before you touched the screen (like an inverse 3D Touch). It worked using a few different components, including pressure sensors on the sides of the phone.
These pressure sensors also did cool things such as keeping the screen on when the phone is held, or silencing a call by simply grabbing the sides. Another interesting feature is the ability to change orientation based on how you’re holding your phone. If you held the phone from the sides, the phone will not change orientation even if you tilt it. It’ll only do so when you’ve actually held the phone from the top and bottom edge. This eliminates the need for any orientation lock that you need to keep switching on or off. This will be much appreciated every time you’re in bed, holding the phone and your screen rotates to landscape when it doesn’t need to.
One more thing that iOS and Android should study is the Gestures app, which was released by Microsoft for Windows Phones. It had useful tricks like turning the speakerphone on when you put the phone on a flat surface, and turn it off upon putting it to your ear. There were other basic features like flipping the phone over to silence calls, answering calls by just putting the phone to the ear, and putting a call on mute when you keep the phone face down.
Now, to be fair, some Android phones already have some of these features - but it would be nice to see Google bake these directly into Android, making them available for everyone. Considering the dedicated ‘Moves’ section in the settings app on Pixel phones, maybe we’ll see them add useful gestures like these to Android as a whole, in the future.
These are five features from other phone operating systems that we hope find their way to Android or iOS. What do you think? Let us know via the comments section.