All The New Android Features, And Where Google Borrowed The Ideas From

This week, Samsung and Google came better together to announce Ice Cream Sandwich. They introduced a ton of new features. Awesome features. Great features. Features we’ve seen before, in quite a few cases. Oh, you thought we only busted out this feature for iOS? Nope. We deal in equal-opportunity snark here. Here’s a rundown of where Google got the idea for some of their better features.

Photo Filters

What it is: The new Android camera app has a couple new features for playing around with your photos. For starters, live effects. The kind that warp your face like a funhouse mirror. In a similar vein, the Gallery app also has some “hipster” (the actual word used in the presentation) photo filters. Even some easy-peasy methods for sharing photos to your social networks.

Where it’s from: The live effects are all but a direct rip from Photo Booth. If you’ve ever used a Mac, you’ve taken a picture of yourself with this app. It’s almost impossible not to. As for the “hipster” photo filters, this is Instagram territory. Minus the built-in photo sharing. Unless you count Google+, which users of Instagram will tell you, they don’t.

Panoramic Photos

What it is: Another new photo-related feature, the new Camera app has the built-in ability to stitch photos together into a single panorama view. Great for getting shots of city scapes, beaches, stadiums, or anything else you need to turn your head to see completely.

Where it’s from: Microsoft’s Photosynth. Sort of. Photosynth isn’t strictly panoramas, per se. Photosynth isn’t so narrow-minded. With Photosynth you can take pictures in just about any direction, and the app will piece them together in as coherent a way as possible. Still, the app has existed for iOS for a while now. The fact that it’s now made it to Android natively is reminiscent at the very least.

Swiping To Dismiss Notifications

What it is: Selective notification dismissal! Yay! While Android’s notification system has been head and shoulders above iOS for a while, Apple recently made waves by introducing their own notification shade with a few improvements. Among them was the ability to selectively dismiss notifications. Now Android users can get in on the action with a simple swipe to dismiss notifications. Sipe to the right and it’s gone, without having to dismiss all.

Where it’s from: Did you think I was gonna say Apple? Close. Apple did implement selective notification dismissal before Android, but before both of those was CyanogenMod, a custom Android build. Apple’s selective dismissal requires the tapping of a box, but CyanogenMod’s implementation is literally the exact same swiping gesture. It’s unclear if Google pulled the same code (it is open source, after all), just the idea, or if there was ever any talk with the CM Team, but in any case, it’s good to see it in official builds, even if it’s not a new idea.

The People App

What it is: It’s the contacts app. But more betterer! Now each of your contacts gets their own “card”. On that card, you’ll see all their social networking information as well as all their regular contact info. Integration of social networks isn’t a terribly new thing for Android, but now you’ll be able to see all the updates from your friends directly in the People app, as well as a “magazine style” look at your most recent contacts.

Where it’s from: Seriously? Google. I’m a little disappoint. This points directly to the Windows Phone People app. It’s even called the People app. And it uses squares and, and….well frig. I don’t know how it can be made any clearer. The design is different, clearly, but it’s still about as obvious as making an oral sex joke whenever Bill Clinton is on the news again.

Multitasking Thumbnails

What it is: As on Honeycomb, you’ll now have a dedicated, on-screen button that will pull up your recent apps list. Scroll up or down to see thumbnails of all the apps you’ve been using recently. Tap one to jump straight into it, or swipe it to the side to close it. This marks the first time that a user can kill an app without fifteen taps, and more importantly, should put a lot of people still married to their task killers at ease. Though, seriously. Don’t use task killers.

Where it’s from: This one feels like a cheap shot, but the style is very reminiscent of WebOS’s “cards” interface. You’ve seen it before. You can pull up card view to swipe between open apps, and swipe any card up or down to close it. So, it’s basically the same WebOS gestures, just rotated 90 degrees. So, why is it a cheap shot? Well, because not only was Matias Duarte instrumental in designing both the WebOS interface and all the Android interfaces from Honeycomb forward, he was also on stage introducing this very feature personally. Hard to say one product copied another when the same man designed both of them, but still. Very familiar.

And Et Cetera

The bulk of the latest Android update was largely a UI refinement. Importing the design from Honeycomb, adding some tweaks here and there. While there’s either not much, or a ton of things you could count as “ripped off” features (depending on how important you think some of these are), the overall theme is actually pretty similar to Windows Phone, what with the high contrast solid colors and hard angles. Plus a heavier emphasis on gestures, which seems to be a nod of “ok, you might have a little bit of a point” in iOS’s direction.

There’s still plenty to be excited about in Ice Cream Sandwich. Zero-lag shutter in the camera app, type-as-you-speak voice transcription (a much needed boon from the “every five words” approach they’ve had up until now), not to mention finally integrating the tablet and phone versions. Still, lest we forget: everyone copies. This is a part of the tech world we live in, ladies and gents.

12 thoughts on “All The New Android Features, And Where Google Borrowed The Ideas From”

  1. WP7 also has swipe dismissal of notifications, but there’s no notification tray, you just swipe to dismiss them as they come up, or they disappear after 10 seconds or so. 
    Photosynth also does 3d walk-through stitching. You can take pictures in rapid fire as you walk through an area, and it will piece them together, allowing you to digitally walk through the space later. I’d love to see that hit my phone in app form: Start taking pictures and walking, then allow them to upload to the Photosynth server for processing, and being able to navigate or email it from the app later.

  2. Funny, since I was sitting there watching that night and thinking “Where are all of the new things?”

    Some of the things that they have done with the UI are really nice though, and I’m happy to see them in official builds.

    One point of contention though – I have had selective notification
    closing for a while now. At least as long as I’ve had Gingerbread (maybe
    before, I can’t remember). The new implementation is nicer in that it
    keeps the same gesture-based dismissal from the rest of the UI, though. I
    like that.

    Final thought: Welcome back, stranger.

    1. I believe Motorola and possibly some other manufacturers added selective dismissal, so yeah, some phones have had it for a while, in addition to the aforementioned CyanogenMod folks. Maybe that’s what it is.

      And thanks! I’ve been stretched pretty thin lately. Feels nice to write again.

  3. Your points on Photo Filters and Panoramic Photos don’t count. If tomorrow Google announced that Android will have window multitasking, (i.e. where you can have multiple apps on the screen at once like on a computer, instead of one-app-at-a-time-multitasking) would you say “that’s not revolutionary, computers already do that!”? Of course not! Because mobile OSs and computer OSs are different. You should have mentioned third-party apps that use Photo Filters and Panoramic Photos, not computer apps.

    1. The point of this series of articles is to illustrate that not all innovation is entirely new and that in the progression of technology, sometimes tech companies move forward by imitating people who have done things before. And sometimes, even, that just outright copying features is good for a platform, as opposed to bad (see also: iOS’s notification system). The point here isn’t to say that Google is somehow ripping anyone off by imitating the features of others, but rather that this is how technology works. I believe I covered that in the end.

      That being said, I’m at a loss to understand what criteria aside from my own discretion is used to say what “counts”. This isn’t a court of law, nor is it a formal debate, so I fail to see how any comparisons can be disqualified. The fact is, the comparison is valid for no other reason than it is a comparison I’m making.

      Besides, Photosynth (in the panoramic shots category) and Instagram (photo filters) are mobile apps. I mentioned that in the article.

    1. You know, I never thought of it, but I probably could do an article for the new stuff in Mango. Trouble is, it would be full of all the things we want them to copy. Basic functionality, even. It would almost feel like cheating.

      Once WP releases an update to their OS from a position of already being on par with the other mobile OSes, I think I might do that.

      1. ” it would be full of all the things we want them to copy. Basic functionality, even. It would almost feel like cheating.” I swear we’re using different types of “Mango”

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