I reckon Apple is awful at software

Posted by kdow on Mar 22, 2017 7:09:25 AM

And by that I mean apps.

Apple has always pitched itself as a software company. They just so happen to build the hardware for the software experiences to run on. Back in the day when Apple made a line of products called the Mac, and nothing else really, they excelled at this. During the late 90’s and early 00’s the Mac went from luxury niche brand to de facto standard in hardware & software marriages.

iOS & the iPhone/iPad did the same. And to this day they continue a beautiful matrimony that works really well. I’ve rarely, if ever, had an OS bug on my macOS or iOS hardware.

Lately, though, it feels like Apple is stepping less into services & more into actual used-by-humans apps. iOS is littered with Apple-built apps that tend to get dumped into a folder somewhere titled “Apple crap”.

Apple’s OS & services (e.g. Bonjour, iMessage, etc.) offerings are still world class and in my bubble, still the defacto standard by which I operate & judge other systems. But Apple’s individual apps, or app bundles, have always been the antithesis of world class (in my mind).

Apple’s own notes app isn’t as good as Wunderlist or Evernote, their mail app isn’t as good as Spark or my deceased love, Mailbox. That list extends far & wide. Apple have now announced a new app called Clips, which lets you “express yourself through video.” Undoubtedly this won’t be as useful or as widely used as SnapChat, Instagram or the plethora of other video apps.

This isn’t to say that these apps aren’t well made. They are. They’re often brilliant. But they stop being brilliant after a few months/years. The reason is that, I reckon, Apple thinks of their app offerings in the same vein that they think of their hardware or OS offerings. They can’t innovate or change their apps as regularly as dedicated providers because the internal politics don’t allow it. Apple’s hardware and OS divisions push out a product and then update it slowly internally before releasing “big” updates once or twice a year.

Look at Safari, an app I love. It’s brilliant, but nowhere near as useful or forward-thinking as Chrome could ever be. Google can continuously update Chrome to their hearts content — and they do! Apple can’t do that because they ship updates in patch format only every so often. Granted, Safari is so baked into the OS they can’t update without ruining apps that hook into the API, but you get the idea here.

Apple needs to drop the act with apps that feel like side projects for bored developers. Or they need to go all-in and compete on the app store with their own apps like everyone else. I feel like the pseudo-deletion of apps on iOS is a nice gesture but I would love to use Apple-made apps more regularly if they were more regularly updated. If they didn’t impose the same update cycle to apps that they impose on hardware or OS’, then their apps could innovate & compete with other folks. Even better, Apple should maintain focus. There are plenty of video apps on the app store — and many of them are outstandingly popular & useful. I don’t see what gap Apple is filling with Clips. The same goes for a lot of the little apps they push onto their devices needlessly.