Been waiting for this. Seems like a pretty nice implementation, too.
Apple’s default iOS apps are great. They exude the simplicity and polish for which the company is known. But they do not and should not suit everyone’s needs, and they should not be our only options to handle core tasks. iOS users need control over default apps.
There is currently no (legitimate) way for iOS users to perform core tasks with alternative apps. For example, you cannot tap an email link in Safari to create a new message with anything but Mail. All web links open in Safari, events in Calendars, directions in Maps, and so on. If you prefer Fantastical over Apple’s Calendar, or Mailbox over Mail, or Google Maps over Apple’s, tough luck—they can’t fit into your regular workflow because iOS and its apps are hardwired out of the box to use Apple’s apps for core tasks. iOS and the massive app ecosystem Apple touts become less useful.
Third-party developers can choose to use alternative apps for core tasks, but it’s a manual process every step of the way. Each developer has to hardwire their app to talk to any other relevant apps. For example, if you want your news app to send article links and text snippets to Evernote, Springpad, WordPress, Simplenote, Tumblr, or any number of other apps, the developer has to deliberately build in a login system or at least sharing buttons for each and every service. It’s tedious, untenable, and a terrible experience for users.
Everything to no one
Apple’s iOS apps try to cover the needs of most customers and, in that regard, they are quite successful. But while many customers have not had complex needs in the past, that’s changing. There are more apps and services, and we have more perpetual connectivity to them, than ever before—thanks largely in part to the wildly successful App Store economy Apple helped create.
But when customer needs grow beyond the features Apple decides to build, we are nevertheless shackled to Apple’s apps for core tasks. We’re prohibited from doing what we want using the tools we need. Perhaps even more aggravating, when I’ve brought up this topic in the past on social media, a handful of Apple engineers have reached out to explain that, if we need one feature or another in Apple’s core apps, we should file a feature request. Apple will consider it, and if it deems the feature worthy of 500+ million customers, we might get lucky.
This approach is untenable for Apple, its developers, and its customers.
Apple can’t add and continually update a zillion integrations to iOS and its apps. At the same time, customers can’t keep growing to depend on the third-party apps Apple so loves to push without getting a much better, frictionless experience.
I save websites and text to a mixture of OmniFocus, Pocket, Evernote, and more. As the user base of the App Store and its many third-party services has exploded in the last half decade, I’m clearly not alone. Pocket now boasts nearly 10 million users, Evernote has 50 million. Enough for Apple to care about? Apparently, not yet. But do those users deserve a great, frictionless experience on what Apple claims is the best mobile OS on the planet? Yes.
The illusion of choice
Apple actively encourages users to adopt any and all of the 850,000 apps in the App Store, including the mountain of alternatives to its default apps. Pushing all those apps—a growing number of which are designed to replace core app functionality—is pointless and increasingly insulting if those apps continue to be cut off at the knees.
I would actually understand Apple’s current position if it fulfilled the persistent, inaccurate myth of being anticompetitive by banning and removing apps that can perform core tasks. It would draw a much clearer line about what we can and can’t do with iOS.
Lead, don’t follow
Instead of allowing people’s needs to grow and take them beyond what iOS can offer, Apple could enhance iOS to accommodate those users without negatively impacting the rest.
Maybe it’s a new option, buried somewhere in Settings, with a list of core tasks (email, calendar, contacts) and apps that can be assigned for them. If you’ve searched for public transit options using Apple Maps to see the list of third-party apps which can handle your request, that’s in the ballpark of what I’m talking about. Plus, that list displays both installed apps and relevant App Store options; discoverability in this mechanism would benefit everyone, including third-party developers and Apple.
Maybe it could be even simpler than that, maybe the Settings option needs a big red button that warns users of what they’re about to do. Those are challenges that Apple’s capable UX designers and hey, YouTube mockup artists can tackle.
The bottom line is, by giving users control over default apps for core tasks, those who need more out of iOS could get it, while users who are happy with Apple’s defaults can stay that way. Everybody wins.
In about three weeks, Apple is going to talk a lot about how great iCloud is for everyone, and hopefully demonstrate a few ways that it’s gotten even better. Gus Mueller explains a few simple ways to verify.
Finally. Just when I was beginning to question whether the “Drop Flash Support” movement had lost a little steam or motivation.
The “App Store needs free trials/paid upgrades/higher prices” discussion is going around again, and I think that’s a good thing. Apple has been pitching third-party apps as a headline feature of the iPhone and iPad practically since the first day of the store’s debut in in June 2008. But in terms of fixing the problems of longterm sustainability for developers and usability for customers, it hasn’t improved a thing in nearly five years.
Marco isn’t sure that adding free trials to the App Store and pushing prices up into desktop ranges like $30 and more is the solution, and I agree. After all, most mobile software is, by definition, a streamlined experience that doesn’t offer as much of the power or flexibility of desktop OSes.
But I wonder if paid upgrades could be the key to balancing the equation. Some regular 99¢ apps could bump their prices up to $2-4, then charge 99¢ later when the major 3.0 update lands. Heck, 99¢ apps could charge 99¢ again months or a year down the road. Customers can continue paying the extremely low prices that fuel the massive App Store economic boom, and developers get a realistic way of creating sustainable apps instead of throwaway, gimmicky, empty App Store calories.
Why wait for the incumbent TV and cable operators to wake up?
If you’ve never heard of The Hawkeye Initiative, I’ll just paste the sidebar explanation:
Created in December of 2012, The Hawkeye Initiative uses Clint Barton as well as other male comic characters to illustrate how contorted and hyper-sexualized women are commonly drawn in comics.
To everyone’s surprise, Marvel gave the project a small nod with a recent update to its Avengers game on Facebook.
Living in Chicago, I’ve been on the hunt for a good community service that gives members a place to organize and talk about what’s new and going on in their specific, neighborhood slice of the city. EveryBlock was great until NBC unceremoniously pulled the plug with no warning. Nextdoor looks promising but it’s taking a while to get traction, and it’s not integrating with much existing data or services. BlockAvenue is the new kid on the, erm… circuit, and it looks promising.
BlockAvenue collects quite a bit of local review data from Yelp, Foursquare, and others, but then again, so do lots of other services. Where it gets interesting is adding more community data and features, including schools, local discussions, crime reports, and a per-block and neighborhood rating system compiled from all this stuff. Got a question about a neighborhood you want to visit or move to? Need to report a problem (potholes, graffiti) to the city? Bam.
Of course, BlockAvenue is in its early stages so it feels heavily weighted to all the existing data it pulls in from other services. But as BlockAvenue improves its tools that add value—discussions, location-based ratings, and more—it could become more useful than EveryBlock was as a one-stop shop to research neighborhoods and organize with the people and businesses in them.
I’m not sure how many more of these good pieces we need about the fundamental problem with the App Store and its terrible sustainability equation for third-party developers. Clearly, we needed at least one more.
If we—and Apple—ever want to get away from this empty calorie culture of throw-away 99¢ apps, option 4 absolutely has to happen. Option 5 really needs to happen as well. But Addey’s right: the ball is and always has been in Apple’s court, and it hasn’t made a move for nearly five years.
Some good analysis and observations from Casey Johnston at Ars Technica.