Like lots of people, I've been oohing and aahing over the PhotoSynth app Microsoft have just given away for the iPhone. It's clever, useful, striking... and oh look: it seems to coincidentally carry with it a taste of the distinctive Metro UI Microsoft are using throughout WP7. Look at the typography, spacing and button/link styles:

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Now, isn't that interesting? Because it was only a couple of weeks ago that I looked over the Google Mobile App and was struck by its use of Android metaphors: in particular, the drawer which is dragged down from the top of the screen, much like the Android notification bar:

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2 examples: That's a big enough sample size to justify a blog post!

Here's what I think is going on here: mobile hardware is commoditised. A majority percentage of new smartphones are lumps of metal with a front-face of touchable glass, and maybe a button or four. I'll bet you that, with a few exceptions, most purchasers of mobile devices aren't influenced by hardware differences - and that it's software which wins them over or loses them. Software is where differentiation is happening nowadays.

And here come Microsoft and Google, taking elements of the UI from their own mobile operating systems and deploying it into free apps for iPhone; giving iPhone owners a taste of what they're missing.

One explanation: G and MS (understandably) take the stance that the UI they have designed for their own devices is the best one they could think of, and that it's only natural for them to use its principles elsewhere. Sounds reasonable, especially if you consider the benefits the UI brings to outweigh the cost of having to learn something "slightly different".

But I think there's another reason to do this: that it's a great way to reach iPhone owners and show them that there *is* an alternative to what they know and love, to acclimatise them to a different way of doing things, and maybe, just maybe, show them that they can have a good experience on devices that aren't designed in Cupertino...