“Innovations are really important in people’s daily lives,” said Tim Cook at today’s Apple event. “The iPhone is changing the world.”
Is it, though? While the iPhone has undoubtedly helped make smartphones mainstream, Apple’s spent the last few generations merely improving upon technology that its competitors have cooked up first. It’s a smart move for a company that has made technology easier to use and more accessible to the general public, but I’d hardly label the latest iPhone 6S and 6S Plus as “innovative.” Most of what was revealed has been done already by Android phone makers.
Apple’s 3D Touch is Huawei’s Force Touch
Apple rebranded the force touch feature it introduced on the Apple Watch as 3D Touch for the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. It allows the display to sense how hard you’re pressing, so you can press hard to pull up contextual menus on the home screen, or offer previews with a gentle tap of a link or icon. Developers will be able to choose exactly how to use light and hard presses.
This neat technology isn’t new to Android. The feature actually dates back to Android Eclair (2.0) and can be found in Android’s Level 5 API. There’s even a barebones Android app you can install to test the feature yourself.
Unfortunately, the only phone actively utilizing and marketing force touch is the Huawei Mate S, which debuted last week at IFA 2015 in Berlin. Huawei calls their version simply “Force Touch.” It can also sense how hard you’re pressing on the display, but the software is not as advanced as what Apple’s offering, which is a bummer on Huawei’s part. The company hasn’t even offered a launch date for when the phone will make it to the US.
A selfie shortcut is essential
iPhone users can take advantage of the new force touch features to quickly launch the front-facing camera and snap a selfie. Well, sort of. iOS 9 requires that you hard-press, and then select the front-facing camera from the drop-down menu to snap a selfie.
Android does it faster. First off, most of Sony’s Xperia and Samsung’s Galaxy Active devices already offer hardware buttons built into the side of the phone to quickly launch the camera. This proved especially helpful for both of these water resistant devices, so you could snap selfies under the sea.
Samsung also brought the quick launch feature to its latest lineup of Galaxy devices full circle by introducing Quick Launch. Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, and Note 5 users can quickly launch the camera application by double-pressing the Home button. If you’d rather shoot selfies, you can leave the camera app set to the front-facing camera so that it always launches facing you first. You can program the OnePlus 2's home button to do the same.
“Hey Siri” is “OK Google” with too much snark
Apple finally announced support for “Hey Siri” without the need to have the iPhone plugged in. With Android, I’ve been able to shout “OK Google” from across the room with almost every major flagship since the launch of Android 5.0—and it didn’t matter if it was charging or not.
The feature was initially popularized on the first-generation Moto X, but it works with other devices, too, as long as the screen is on. All you have to do is enable the feature from the Google app settings. Today, some phones allow you to wake the phone with OK Google, others require the phone to be awake, but all work without plugging in the phone.
Android mastered photos a while ago
I remember when the iPhone was the one with the neat camera abilities and stellar photographs, but most Android phones have since caught up. Samsung’s Galaxy lineup and the LG G4 are great examples of what happens when Android manufacturers focus on improving the camera experience in their flagship devices. Both Samsung and LG’s hero phones have the iPhone 6S and 6 Plus beat.
The new iPhone's rear-facing 12-megapixel camera is a big step up from the 8 megapixels of the current iPhone 6, but is nothing compared to the Galaxy S6 and G4’s 16-megapixel rear-facing cameras. They both have impeccable low light abilities and can record 4K video, as well as manual-shooting modes. Quite a few Android phones use an image sensor made by Samsung with its ISOCELL technology, which helps prevent crosstalk between pixels—a feature Apple called out in its new camera sensor.
Android phones have also been ahead of Apple in the selfie camera department. Currently, the Galaxy S6, G4, Xperia Z5. and Moto X all boast 5-megapixel or higher front-facing camera sensors with impressive apertures. The third-generation Moto G also utilizes a front-facing display flash, so you can snap a photo with the white light of the display. It doesn’t work that well, but it’s there, and it was announced before Apple got to it. The Moto X Pure Edition has an actual flash on the front, not a hack to use the display.
Faster, smaller processors
Samsung’s latest chips are made on a 14nm process, which is what the A9 is assumed to be. And although Apple spent a good portion of its presentation boasting the A9’s faster CPU and GPU speeds and always-on capabilities, it’s essentially playing catchup to what Samsung and Qualcomm shipped earlier this year. Building the motion sensor into the CPU is old news for Android phones, too, as Qualcomm’s processors have been doing that since last year.
There's no doubt the iPhone 6s will represent a nice step forward for those dedicated to Apple's ecosystem. And Apple's attention to detail and craftsmanship always results in a pleasing phone. But when it comes to core technology, the company isn't really breaking new ground. If you want an early look at the features of the iPhone 7, keep a watch on the Android market over the next year.