Six apps, services, and features Apple copied for iOS 12


Most of us look forward to Apple events. We’re curious to see what new features will be introduced, regardless of whether we’ll ever actually use them. But for some developers, it can be a nerve-wracking time for one simple reason: what if Apple decides to clone your app?

Having your service or software copied is an occupational hazard for any developer, but the danger is particularly acute in Apple’s ecosystem because of the power the company wields over its OS and its users. The practice even has its own nickname — “Sherlocking” — named after Apple’s Sherlock search tool, which, in 2002, introduced a bunch of features previously found in third-party rival Watson.

Sherlocking comes in many shapes and guises, and it can’t just be characterized as a rapacious or malicious practice. Often, it’s the natural evolution of a particular program or a response to customer demand that developers met first and Apple is catching up to. And, yes, sometimes it’s just a way of choking out would-be rivals before they get too big for their boots.

With all that in mind, here are some of the new features Apple announced yesterday for iOS 12 that seem to have taken inspiration from elsewhere

Apple’s new Memoji feature lets you design a cartoon avatar of your face for messaging and video calls. It’s a logical evolution of Animoji, which the company introduced last year, but it’s also a direct answer to a growing number of digital avatars, including Snapchat’s Bitmoji, Samsung’s AR Emoji, and the gaming avatars of consoles like the Xbox and Wii.

Bitmoji is certainly the best known and most widely used among this bunch, and it offers much more customization than Memoji. But, part of its user base comes from people installing the Bitmoji keyboard to use in other messaging apps, like iMessage. Apple’s Memoji could eat into this market, although Apple would have to let its characters travel outside of iMessage to really allow its avatars grow.

Tech companies are finally addressing how much time we spend on our phones. In iOS 12, Apple is introducing its own solution: Screen Time, a new feature that will let users quantify their phone and tablet usages and identify which apps consume most of their time.

A number of third-party apps have been offering a similar service for a while, but the most prominent is probably Moment, which launched back in 2014. (Amazon also offers something sort of similar with its FreeTime app.) Moment is free to download, but some features — like setting limits on individual app usage — require you to pay a small, one-off fee. Unfortunately for Moment, Apple’s Screen Time offers some of those same features for free.

Screen Time will let you manage how much time you spend on certain apps and set limits.
 Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

This one isn’t technically Sherlocking because Apple is incorporating the features of an app it bought last year: Workflow. This was (and is) a fantastic tool for automating tasks on iOS, letting you execute a bunch of commands with a single button tap. For example, you can automatically upload the last photo you took to Dropbox or open your favorite Spotify playlist without having to dig through those apps’ interfaces. IFTTT (If This Then That) is another service that offers similar functionality, although it’s web-based, multiplatform, and will definitely continue to thrive.

With iOS 12, Apple is making these sorts of automation features part of the operating system with a new app called Siri Shortcuts. As with Workflow and IFTTT, it lets you execute complex tasks using a single voice command or button press. The app has a near-identical UI to Workflow, and it’s also supposed to predict tasks you do regularly, like buying coffee at the same shop each morning. Given that voice commands are optional, the Siri branding here is incidental, and this could become a powerful tool, like Automator on the Mac. (It’s also worth noting that Siri Suggestions are almost identical in functionality to Routines on Alexa.)