Today, Steve Jobs unveiled tons of new features--Twitter integration, iOS 5, iCloud--but what many Apple fanboys are talking about instead are the number of apps that Apple appears to be co-opting. To wit: When Apple announced a new feature called "Reading List," which lets you save articles to read later, Instapaper founder Marco Arment immediately tweeted just one word, which may reflect the feelings of a lot of developers today: "Shit."
Arment isn't the only developer whose toes Apple is stepping on. Instapaper-like programs such as Readability, mail clients like Sparrow, notification systems like Remember The Milk, cloud services like Box.net and Dropbox, group messaging services like GroupMe and Fast Society--these are just a sampling of the apps that have been co-opted by Apple in one way or another during today's announcement.
Here's a compilation of features from Apple's WWDC keynote and the places you might have seen similar features before.
How are iOS 5 and Lion's features similar to Box.net, for example. The popular enterprise cloud service lets users store 5GB of documents and files for free, accessible from any iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. Coincidentally, Apple's new storage service, iCloud, lets users store 5GB of documents and files for free, accessible from any iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. Sound familiar?
"I think that's a direct rip-off of us--[Jobs] didn't mention us in the keynote, did he?" jokes Box.net CEO Aaron Levie.
Levie reacted well to the news, saying he understands where Apple is coming from. "There's the Apple consumer--the one with a Macbook, an iPad, an iPhone--and obviously Apple sees a strategy where they should be the one responsible for keeping the devices in sync," he explains. They may not have been the first ones to come up with these ideas, but Apple has brought all of these types of services under one roof. "They really want to be at the center of that universe, which makes complete sense," Levie says.
Box.net has seen big competitors in this space before, and Levie says iCloud is just "Microsoft Live Mesh done right." His company is differentiated, he says: Box.net is successful not only for its online storage, but for its sharing, collaboration tools, and interoperability, which have become major selling points to enterprise clients. "I don't know if iCloud is going to be the place where you do all your work from, but I think it'll be a place where you keep a lot of your personal data synced," he says.
That's a similar tone struck by Instapaper's Arment, who after tweeting out his initial four-letter feelings, took a more optimistic outlook. "Glad I've invested in social and editorial features," he said. "Not dead yet!"
Users familiar with Rhapsody might expect that service to be rocked by Apple's announcement of iTunes in the Cloud, but Rhapsody president Jon Irwin was decidedly upbeat, having expected the move for months. A social aspect--namely music discovery--and the ability not only to find and play songs you haven't bought but listen to them almost instantly to decide if you might want to still gives it an advantage, Irwin tells Fast Company. "I can discover it without having to purchase it," he says, adding that Rhapsody also has the advantage of working on all kinds of non-Apple devices. "It's device agnostic, and it's purchase agnostic."
But for other apps not as popular as Rhapsody or Instapaper and Box.net, Apple's announcements Monday could sound a death knell--if the company hasn't already. Remember when Camera+ was booted from the app store for using the volume button to snap photos? At the time, Apple said Camera+ would lead to user confusion for employing non-standard hardware behavior. Yet during today's announcement, using the volume button to take pictures was suddenly acceptable. Do as I say, not as I do…
The app store, in some sense, has become both a gift and a curse for Apple. With some 400,000 apps, developers have helped drive huge traffic and sales for Apple, and provided a big selling point for the iPhone and iPad as more Android competitors enter the fray.
Yet at the same time, the hundreds of thousands of apps have also created a fragmented eco-system, where to do many simple tasks that users have come to expect--online storage, group messaging, to-do reminders--you need a dozen of third-party apps. For a company known for a slick, streamlined OS--the company that made a phone with only one button and a computer with only one plug--the app world may have strayed too far from Apple's simple and user-friendly environment.
[Video editing by Adam Barenblat]