There have been plenty of posts already on how iOS 5 is essentially a “catch up” release, primarily offering features that are available on other platforms.  The notification system, Twitter integration, lock screen widgets/info, iMessage, tabbed browsing, location-based reminders, etc. are all features that are offered either natively or through third-party apps on other platforms.  Does that mean Apple is just copying everyone else?  That’s arguable, but it is clear that Apple is not years ahead of the competition, jumping ahead with unforeseen features.

Not only is Apple getting a lot of ideas from developers on other platforms, they are finding a lot of inspiration from developers on their own iOS platform.  The app Camera+ was pulled from the App Store because you could use the volume keys as the shutter button.  Clearly, having a second use for the volume keys would be too confusing for users.  Fortunately, Apple feels that after a year, users have become capable of understanding this feature, so it’s included in iOS 5.

In May of 2010, Greg Hughes submitted his app, Wi-Fi Sync, to the App Store.  A month later, Apple rejected it.  Guess what is available in iOS 5…. Wi-Fi Sync!  Same name, similar logo, same purpose.  The one difference I can see is that Apple’s version requires the device to be plugged in to a power source to sync.

In fact, many of the features available on other platforms have been available to jailbroken iOS devices.  Lock screen widgets, rich text email, notifications, and many others have been available for quite some time before Apple introduced them.  It seems like Cydia is a good place for Apple to look for “new” ideas.

Software is not the only place where we see this borrowing of ideas. Apple has copied commercials as well (some nearly scene-by-scene). Apple’s hardware also borrows from Dieter Rams (though the iPhone 4 is very Vizio-esque).

Is any of this illegal?  I don’t know, but Apple is infamous for suing everyone for, well, anything.  They’ve sued Motorola over multi-touch (though, to be fair, Motorola sued Apple first over a variety of patents).  They have countersued Nokia for “stealing” Apple technology.  They sued HTC for multiple patents including slide-to-unlock.  Let’s not forget Apple suing Samsung for similar icons/phone design and Amazon for the Amazon appstore (not to be confused with Apple’s App Store).

The great thing about having multiple viable mobile operating systems is that the competition creates faster innovation and a better value to users.  It is unfortunate that one of the biggest names in mobile has gone from innovation to catch up so quickly.  Hopefully they will start pushing the limits of mobile technology again, so that more than just current iOS users can get excited over the new features.