Improving Apps on iOS Pt. 1: Integration

- 946 words -

It’s probably safe to say that at this point, the iOS app ecosystem has developed and grown in quality to such an extent that the average user can replace Apple’s built-in apps with third-party ones, without compromising the intended experience of using an iOS device. Just a few years ago, I didn’t have a folder where I’d chuck in all the built-in apps I couldn't delete - now I have one, containing ten apps. Reminders was replaced with Wunderlist, Notes was replaced with Evernote, Nike + iPod was replaced with Nike+ Running, Calendar was replaced with Sunrise, and Podcasts was replaced with Overcast, just to name a few examples.

With iOS 8, Apple has given third-party developers the ability to take apps beyond the sandboxes used to limit inter-app accessibility, toted as “Extensibility”. While much of that has yet to be completely realised, it indicates Apple’s willingness to “open up” and entrust the software side of the Apple experience with third-party developers.

However, there is great room for improvement. Apple should further recognise the power of third-party developers’ apps. They do that already by awarding the best ones on an annual basis, as well as regularly featuring apps on the App Store’s “Featured” tab. But sometimes, if not oftentimes, the quality of the best apps is seen to surpass even that of Apple’s built-in ones, as mentioned earlier, which brings me to the proposition that Apple should let apps operate at a system level. They’ve done a bit of that with Today widgets and Extensions, but simply put, apps can and should have access to so much more, given sensible design and integration with iOS.

Siri

Siri has greatly improved over the years - a more sentient voice, more accurate dictation, more accurate results, etc. I think it’s only fitting that at some point in the future, third-party apps have access to Siri beyond having it open them. To me, it’s frustrating that I can’t use Siri to the extent that it’s capable. I could be dictating all my reminders, all my calendar events, and all my messages to Siri. But seldom, if not never, do I use the only apps Siri has access to - the built-in ones. Giving developers access to Siri, especially with the Apple Watch just around the corner, can possibly give users (and maybe even Apple) a new way of using voice with the apps that they have, third-party or not.

Setting defaults

This has a bit to do with Siri, in that defaults can help fundamental features of iOS defer to your apps of preference. But it’s easy to disagree with the notion of fiddling with default apps simply because it’s not very Apple-like to let users deviate from Apple’s own apps and services, as well as customise the basic iOS experience in general.

This brings me to an Apple-like solution: Apple themselves handpicking apps to enable as default. It’s a tall order, but it might justify growing or reorganising the App Review Team if recent kerfuffles with some third-party developers doesn’t.

Regular Siri users would probably be the biggest beneficiaries of third-party defaults, and it would allow it to differentiate itself from competing voice assistants like Google Now, especially for people who would prefer using their voice to interact with robust third-party apps, alongside Apple’s existing web services and third-party services, as opposed to Google’s web services.

New dimension of success in the App Store

My general impression of doing business in the App Store is that it is getting increasingly difficult to make money, but not enough to warrant switching app development to Android. Some hurdles to overcome involve advertising and user data - rather, the lack thereof. iOS users seem to generally be less tolerant of tasteless ads in apps and online, and I can’t imagine a company like Apple being lenient when it comes to letting third parties access behavioural user data and analytics (compared to the likes of Google).

However, being able to produce the best apps that are optimised to work with iOS on a system level can open new avenues of success for developers.

  • While a given, it’s worth noting that it will establish a more positive relationship with Apple, given an increased level of collaboration any way you see it.
  • In my opinion, the App Store is saturated with brilliant apps good enough to be set as default (hence my previous suggestions), especially those that work with Apple’s services to any degree. That might translate to less work having to be done to enable optimising apps as system defaults, if Apple is willing to set up the necessary infrastructure.
  • Apple can increase the rate at which they pay developers, as a better monetary reward system may lend itself accordingly with collaboration on this scale. Whether or not it’s wishful thinking, you shouldn’t rule it out as a possibility. Who would’ve known that Apple would provide as many developer tools, including those that enable Extensibility, as they did in WWDC 2014?
  • On another note, it makes Apple even more attractive to develop apps for than it already is.

Of course, I’m not nearly qualified enough (being neither an analyst nor an iOS developer) to guarantee any rate of success in such a situation. But a lot of Apple’s culture is ingrained in making their devices simply work, thus helping developers achieve that goal by somehow cultivating an ecosystem and community in which they can take new financial, alongside user-centric, ways to create successful apps.

In the next post, improving apps in a way that addresses the iPad and its functionality.