Apple’s war against Google has finally gotten interesting

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Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, it couldn’t be more obvious that Apple’s WWDC presentation was aimed squarely at a single competitor. Apple offered features and services to counter Google on nearly every level yesterday, and it’s going to be more than a little interesting to see how Google reacts.

Smartphone fanboys will spend the next few days arguing about whether or not Apple did anything interesting yesterday. Third party keyboards? Welcome to 2011, Apple. Calling from my laptop or tablet? Do you even AirDroid, bro? How about Google Voice? The conversation isn’t all that interesting, and usually ends in slinging insults or moving goalposts, and that’s because the larger point is being missed. Apple isn’t just taking the best parts of Google and sewing it into iOS. Let’s be honest, each of the smartphone OS designers have been taking cues from one another for years now, and for the most part that is a good thing for everyone. What Apple did yesterday was a lot more deliberate, and a lot more targeted. Apple took to the stage with a single goal in mind, to categorically replace the need for Google in your life.

ios-8-spotlight

Let’s start with the most obvious part of the presentation: every single time you saw Spotlight, it signaled a shift away from Google. Spotlight suggestions are designed to pull from many different sources to give you a more interactive search experience wherever possible, which seemed to work really well in the demonstrations. Each time the demonstration was offered, you’d hear “Now, you could do a Google search and get what you want, but Spotlight Suggestions has everything you need right here. See?” It was powerful, because it worked great every time and the repetitive notion that it could replace Google for performing these tasks was constant.

Apple’s iCloud service got some interesting definition as well, targeting Google Drive in the process. You can interact with the Drive app to accomplish a great deal, and Android is designed in such a way that saving things to Drive couldn’t be easier, but actually accessing files stored on Drive from outside of the Drive app is not nearly as simple. Apple’s use of iCloud as a temporary storage locker for sending large files via their Mail client is a big jab at Gmail and Drive — you can use Google’s services to accomplish the same thing, but you have to do it manually.

iOS 8 Family Setup

The new family mode for iOS 8 solves a problem that all mobile devices have had for a while now. Google solved the family issue by allowing multiple accounts on a single device, so you can switch back and forth between them and keep your information private. It works well most of the time, though there are occasionally issues with apps and storage that cause some usability problems. Apple is a hardware company, so it makes perfect sense that they would opt for a solution that encourages the sale of hardware instead of reinventing the “family computer” model on iOS. The part of this setup that makes Apple shine is the payment method sharing. The ability to have a notification on a parent’s iPhone telling you that your son or daughter is trying to purchase a movie or app is so much better than a password protected purchase. It’s something no one else is doing right now.

Android has several utilities for wirelessly syncing your smartphone with a tablet or laptop in order to do things like make phone calls or deftly switch from one device to another without losing your place in a specific task. The problem is that none of them are complete thoughts, or they aren’t actually functional solutions to the problems at which they are aimed. Google’s impressive handle on all things cloud has made it possible for you to pick up one device and see things that are on the other, but it’s not seamless. In Chrome, you manually go and look for what you were just doing. In Gmail, you can pick an email up out of a Draft and see the text you were just working on. In Google Voice and Hangouts, you can angrily shout at your phone in the hopes that it will actually be the unified SMS and IM service you want it to be. These are all mostly functional solutions, but none of them offer the ingredient that will make Apple’s implementation feel more complete.

Apple’s demonstration of their continuity features was organized in the best way possible to illustrate how they managed to improve on existing implementations in very interesting ways. Handoff is going to use the same proximity tech used in AirDrop to make it possible to seamlessly move from one device to another. No hunting for your email in Drafts, no manually hunting through tabs on other devices. As long as you like iMessage, you can have a ubiquitous experience. It’s a level of polish that Google’s services, which absolutely accomplish the same basic tasks, completely lack. The added hotspot service, in which your iPhone will take generate a hotspot for your Macbook, well, that’s just showing off.

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The real kickers here for Android fans are with Widgets, Notifications, and third party keyboards. These are three things that, until yesterday, made Android truly stand out over iOS. Android widgets are fantastic nowadays, and third party keyboards are often the ultimate example of personalization from one device to another. Android notifications are the envy of the mobile world, and over the last couple of years, Apple and Microsoft both have worked hard to implement their own version into iOS and Windows Phone. Apple’s notifications for iOS 8 seem to have finally caught up to Android by making them dismissible with a swipe, and interactive without leaving whatever screen you are currently on. The ability to respond to a text message from within the notification panel is something Android should have been able to do for a while now, but hasn’t quite delivered. With enough developer support, it’s entirely possible for notifications to become more interactive on iOS this year when compared to what Android notifications are currently capable of.

As a fan of Google’s services, I couldn’t be happier that Apple worked so hard to target all of these loose links in the armor of their fiercest competitor. Apple has delivered an impressive update to their platforms, and that will force Google to keep improving and to continue pushing out cool new things in the areas that they have been leaders in for so long. At the end of the day this is good for everyone, because these companies are going to keep each other working hard to remain relevant.

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