They don’t. In fact, it was neither Android nor Apple that got there first!
This the LG Prada from 2006, a year before Apple released the first iPhone. And yeah, LG was convinced that Apple stole their design. You can see that LG also had a camera flash, which many of the early phones lacked. Of course, LG went on to make Android phones.
Here’s the original iPhone from 2007. Nope, no flash, but it did have a 2 megapixel camera, same resolution as the LG’s camera.
This is the very first Android phone released, in 2008, the HTC Dream (called the G1 in the USA). Yes, like the iPhone is has a capacitive multitouch screen that doesn’t use a stylus, as most consumer oriented or high-end phones did from the late 2000s on. But Apple absolutely did popularize the touch interface a year or more before Android, Palm WebOS, or Windows Phone 7 were out. The button layout would be fairly familiar to Palm or Windows Mobile users, nothing at all like Apple’s.
Samsung, pretty early on, was the one Android phone manufacturer really trying to look like Apple… or are they cloning LG? It was the software they got them in trouble, not the fairly obvious shape of the phone. They even lost a lawsuit on that, because they tweaked the Android OS to look more like iOS. No other company did that.
But as far as innovations go, plenty of other companies got their first:
- Fingerprint sensor. The Motorola Atrix, which launched in 2011, was the first smartphone with this. There were a few feature phones before this with fingerprint sensors. Apple released theirs in the iPhone 5s, in 2013. A few 2018 Android phones have the sensor under the screen, a feature Apple has not yet introduced in an iPhone.
- Touchscreen. The first touchscreen phone wasn’t well known by most folks: the IBM Simon in 1992. Touch screen technology, including multi-touch, was hardly a new thing when Apple created the iPhone. In fact, in the 1980s, much of the CAD industry flirted with touch screens, stylus, light pens, various other ways of interacting directly with a screen. They pretty much tossed it out — touch screens on vertical displays are just a bad idea for the human physiology. But they made a great compromise for small devices. The LG Prada, in 2006, was the first smartphone wiht a capacitive touch screen, but it was only single touch. Apple was, however, the first company to use multitouch in a smartphone, far as I can tell.
- Large screen. The so-called “phablet” was around in the fringe for a few years, but was popularized in 2011 when Samsung released the Galaxy Note. Apple didn’t release a larger screen phone until the iPhone 6 Plus in 2014.
- Dual camera. Samsung actually released a phone in 2007 with dual cameras for stereoscopic photography. HTC, LG, and Sharp did as well in following years. The first phone to use two cameras for depth sensing was the HTC One M8 in 2014, followed shortly by the Huawei Honor 6 Plus. The 2015 LG V10 — my phone — was the first to offer multiple focal lengths, though they went wide and wider angle, and only for the front camera. The next year’s LG G5 moved the ultrawide camera to the back in early 2016. Also in early 2016, Huawei released the P9, with a camera system developed in conjunction with Leica, that had two matched cameras, one in color, one in monochrome, and did various tricks with image fusion. Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus came in the fall of 2016, and included both a wide angle and a “portrait” lens, close to a normal lens in focal length.
- Triple Camera. The only one so far is Huawei’s P20 Pro. It’s also the best rated phone camera on the market in 2018, and the only one so far to use a very large sensor chip with adjustable resolution. This will probably change, as Sony has just introduced a similar chip for general sales to phone manufacturers.
- All-Screen Phone. This has certainly been evolving over the years. LG’s G2 was one big step toward in 2013, moving all buttons to the back and shrinking the bezel considerably. Samsung’s Galaxy Edge series pretty much elimimated the left/right bezels in 2015, wrapping the screen around the edge of the phone — not a win for ruggedness, but sure was pretty. The Xiomi Mi Mix took this to the extreme in 2016. Apple’s first phone approaching the “all screen” look was 2017’s iPhone X.
- The Notch! I’m not sure this is an innovation, but it’s gained considerable popularity. The first phone I know of with any kind of notch was LG’s V10 in 2015. The notch was on the left, not centered, and the extra screen area to the right of it was treated as a “second screen”, not merged into the main screen. The first phone with a central notch is probably the Essential Phone in May of 2017. The iPhone X was Apple’s first notch, and a particularly huge one, which debuted in November of 2017.
- AMOLED screen. The first AMOLED screen smartphone was… the Nokia N85 in 2008, probably not who you were thinking of. Samsung’s first AMOLED screen was on the i7110, like the Nokia, a SymbianOS phone, not Android or Windows. And of course, in 2010, Samsung introduced the Galaxy S, an Android device with AMOLED screen. Apple’s first AMOLED screen phone was, of course, 2017’s iPhone X.
- Multi-Core CPU. The first dual-core phone was the LG Optimus 2X in 2011. Apple’s first dual-core phone was the iPhone 4S in 2013.
- Fast Charging. The first phone with fast charging was the HTC One M8 in 2014. Most 2014 later Android phones adopted a fast charging system, originally Qualcomm’s Quick Charge, more recently the new USB Power Deliver system. Apple first introduced fast charging in 2017: the iPhone 8 and X use USB Power Delivery.
- Wireless Charging. My old LG G2 supported the Qi standard for wireless charging in 2013… apparently only the Verizon model did so, for some weird reason. Though the first was the Palm Pre, which had optional wireless charging using their own “Touchstone” technology. Apple introduced the Qi charging standard on the iPhone 8 and X in 2017.
- Augmented Reality. The first phone designed for AR was the Lenovo Phab Pro 2 in 2016, following Google’s design requirements for their Tango AR API. Apple’s pushed the idea of AR really heavily in this year’s iPhones… and many other companies are supporting it as well. It’s pretty much based on technology they’re going to have in phones anyway, so why not?
- Facial Recognition. Samsung introduced facial recognition on the Galaxy Note 7 in 2016, with iris scanning hardware using an IR illuminator and special camera, was the best facial recognition in a phone at the time. Though it had been around on some other devices, such as 2015’s ZTE Axon Elite. Of course, the Note 7 was recalled due to battery problems. Apple’s implementation a year later, essentially building in a micro-Kinect device for 3D facial mapping is certainly an improvement. But they were still building on others’ ideas. Android had a face unlock feature — available on every phone — done entirely in software back in 2015, but it was acknowledged as less secure than codes or fingerprints.
- Modularity. The LG G5 took a crack at device modularity in 2016, and the Motorola Z series did their own modular approach later that same year. The very pricey Red Helium phone also has a modular system. Apple has not released a modular phone yet.
- Higher resolution displays. Pretty much every started out with 480 x 320 displays, or lower, in modern smartphones. The first full HD phone was the HTC Droid DNA at 1920×1080 in 2012, and that rapidly became the standard. Apple didn’t get to 1920×1080 until the iPhone 6 Plus in 2014. The LG G3 introduced the 1440 x 2560 in 2014, and most premium and some mid-range Android phones use this resolution today. Apple’s highest screen resolution is in 2017’s iPhone X, at 2436 x 1125. Sony’s Xperia Z5 in 2015 was the first with a 4K display, neither Apple nor most Android manufacturers have followed Sony there.
- Infrared controller. HTC’s original HTC One was one of the first smartphones with an “IR Blaster” for standard remote control functions. Many Androids phones have had this since, but Apple has not. Much older phones had an IrDA interface that allowed data to be transferred with light, but was too dim for device control beyond a foot or two away from the target. IrDA was replaced by the far more reliable Bluetooth technology.
- Faster LTE Wireless. Apple just started supporting CAT12 LTE in 2017 with the iPhone X and 8, which is technically good for 600Mb/s (naturally, under pretty ideal circumstances, and assuming your carrier isn’t throttling). A number of Android phones has CAT12 support in 2016. Samsung released the Galaxy S8 with CAT16 (1024 Mb/s) support in 2017, and a good portion of 2018 Android phones support CAT16. And this year’s Galaxy S9 supports CAT18 (1200Mb/s).
- Near Field Communications. NFC is the key to “pay by phone”. The Nexus S, going way back to 2010, was the first phone with NFC. And that’s been a growing standard function in many phones. I had it first in my Galaxy Nexus in 2011. Apple added it in 2015 with the iPhone 6. Though at least in the USA, Apple got an early start on pay-by-phone by pusing Apple Pay all on their own, while US carriers were trying to create their own payment systems, often at odds with banks also trying to do likewise. Google introdued Google Wallet (2011), but they improved support considerably with Android Pay (2015), and finally merging the last bits of Google Wallet into Android Pay and rebranding it Google Pay (2018). Samsung and a few others also created their own NFC payment systems — they all use the same payment infrastructure used by the credit card companies.
Understand, too, that what we call “innovation” is really a historial judgement. Apple and, particularly, Steve Jobs understood that consumers would buy smartphones in an era in which the reigning smartphone systems (Blackberry, PalmOS, Windows Mobile, SymbianOS) did not think smartphones were for consumers. In fact, SymbianOS phones sold in consumer markets were marketed as feature phones, even through they were fully functional smartphones. Apple was right, so that alone was considered a major innovation, and no smartphone launch has been successful since then without considering the consumer.
But there’s always some risk in innvoation. Samsung guessed that people would want a larger-screen phone, and that drove phone design ever since. But it they were wrong, it would have been one of those “end of year” worst products, never seen again.
I’m sure you could make a list of things Apple actually did do first. I know they had a pressure sensitive display on the Apple Watch in 2014 and the iPhone 6, while only a few Android phone makers have done that, and more recently. I was not making that attempt, only pointing out that many of today’s innovations did not come from Apple, and yet, you have them on Apple devices today. That is the nature of technology. Companies that don’t recognize someone else’s good idea and add that don’t last for long.
Some of the changes happen gradually. Samsung, Apple, and others gradually noticed that consumers were using their phones as real cameras, not just for barcode scanning or to remember where they parked. So around 2010–2011, they gradually started building in better cameras. But it was obvious enough that everyone in the industry started doing this, and it gradually grew to be a major point of differentiation between smartphones… and HTC’s got the best one so far this year. But the leadership position is a fading thing.
And that’s not even touching on software technologies. Android and iOS borrowed from each other in various ways, and rather than pick a winner, we can just acknowledge that this has been good for both. And of course, they were both inspired by previous smartphone and PDA interfaces. The “row of icons” that you get on iOS was in SymbianOS, PalmOS, Windows Mobile/Pocket PC, and even in a form going back to Apple’s own Newton. Except for Samsung’s early Android modifications, Apple’s initial push toward raging skeuomorphism was never part of Android, so it’s actually Apple drifting back toward where Android has always been in more recent version of the iOS, simply based around look and feel. And sure, only to a degree — they each have their own overall gestalt that’s different. Apple adopted Android’s notification system, but made it a natural part of iOS in the process, they didn’t just copy it.
You can, of course, find that some of Apple’s implementations of some of these things were better than those that preceeded them. That’s kind of a given — most companies don’t drop in features that are worse than those they learn about from other companies. In a few cases, like the fingerprint sensor, it took awhile before they were all acceptably good. Apple did often get better, faster, because they found a company doing the thing they wanted and just bought them, rather than, perhaps, tip off a competitor.