The Problem with iOS

Note: This post should probably be titled My Problem with iOS, I just couldn’t help the hyperbole.

I’m a diehard Apple fanboy (or whatever it is you’re calling me these days). I live a significant portion of my life in their ecosystem. Moving away from their hardware is something I have no desire or intention of doing, but there’s a problem I continually find myself running into. While I love Apple’s hardware and their operating system, I don’t love their apps. There are few instances where their default offering is my preference.

Now Apple attempts to solve this problem with the App Store. It has brought me solutions like Camera+, Fantastical, Due, Notesy, Instapaper, Check The Weather, Instacast, Spotify, Google Maps and TextExpander, which all enhance standard functionality and have improved upon my iOS experience. What it hasn’t offered is a way to best align these tools with the device.

The ability to align my workflow is a big part of the reason that I still prefer my Mac to iOS. In OS X a well-thought-out workflow can make it difficult to tell where one app ends and another begins. This is a benefit that lets me focus less on the tools and more on my work. The same hasn’t proven to be true on iOS where I’m consistently running into small points of friction that come from wanting to use better alternatives to the default software while reaping all of the benefits that my iPhone and iPad have to offer.

Recently, James Gowans made the shift to almost entirely Apple apps on his iPhone and iPad. I knew several of the benefits individually, but it wasn’t until he put them in perspective that I fully realized how much I was missing by not using Apple’s default offerings. I can’t use Siri with many of my favorite apps, I can’t swipe up on the home screen to my camera of choice, I can’t click on an email address and have it open into a different program, I can’t get the most out of notification center, I can’t use TextExpander in emails (JUST LET ME USE TEXTEXPANDER ALREADY). These are all minor gripes, but collectively they diminish the experience. I still believe I’m better off with the kind of fractured, yet powerful experience than comes from third-party apps, but James helped me realize why I still struggle to make the most out of my iOS devices.

Apple’s apps offer insight into what their platform is capable of, the work of third-party developers show just how great each aspect of that experience can be, but the limitations that are being imposed on these third-party apps keeps iOS from ever reaching its true potential. Or at least it does for me.

I crave something that won’t be permitted to exist: an Apple-caliber experience with third-party applications. I want the best possible platform with the best possible application to create the best possible experience. I know I’m a power user, I get that most people don’t care about these kinds of things and that this clearly isn’t affecting sales, but it’s disappointing that Apple seems determined to limit other applications rather than doing what’s needed to prove that their way is best.

I’ve always paid Apple a premium for a better experience, but as they look to hold on to control, I can’t help but feel like the premium is beginning to come at the expense of my experience. When I moved to the Mac, the driving desire was to get away from Microsoft’s vision of how I do my best work in order to find my own. I just really hope that, as a fan and a customer, the day never comes where Apple’s desire for control drives me to a similar crossroad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=727341539 Karen Oliver

    Do I dare say it?……….. The A word? :-) It surprises me that so many tech fans go with iOS because of the reasons you have outlined. The biggest thing I love about Android is the ability to tinker. There are drawbacks – particularly a pause when loading apps, but the customability really comes out on top. I can change the launcher app and choose any app to be the default. The list could go on…. I can see the advantage of the better integration of iOS with your Mac – which is more seemless than my use of Android and Windows (forced on me through work these days but something I grew up with and don’t see any reason for change)

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      It’s a fair callout. The challenge is two fold for me. I’m very invested in the apps, especially OmniFocus and all of my content is in iTunes. Not sure it’d be worth it. I guess the reality is both have their ups and downs, but at the end of the day iOS is my preference. Just wish they’d ease up slightly in how they shape the third party experience.

  • http://www.enmast.com/ Brad Farris

    Mark;

    I was lamenting about this lately too. Google Maps is a superior product but when I click on an address it goes to Apple Maps. I also can’t use Siri with Google maps…

    It is frustrating that they don’t open up just a bit — I don’t think it would cost them more, or endanger the user experience.

  • http://twitter.com/PolyGuySeattle PolyGuySeattle

    I couldn’t agree more. I love Apple hardware. And their customer service is still stellar.

    Their OS design? Well, I’m not as huge of a fan; I find that OS X has some rather huge, glaring flaws at a deep, kernel level, that Windows did not (truth in advertising: I’m a former Microsoft employee, so I know a lot of Windows’ deep flaws and can guess about similar flaws in OS X). They don’t seem to handle glitches in the hardware very well, leading to difficult-to-resolve issues (my super-duper top-end rMBP still can take almost a minute to wake from sleep).

    And their apps are… well, for the most part, they’re pathetic. Aside from a few flashes of brilliance, Safari is one of the buggiest browsers on the market. The default mail app on OS X has more bugs than I can count. Notes is sort of a joke for serious note taking. And on, and on, and on.

    iOS is in many ways worse, because despite the App Store, Apple religiously (and litigiously) locks down all of the interesting/useful API’s that would allow third party developers to do truly amazing things with the ecosystem. Instead, Apple creates an endless, irresistible tide to use their apps, their ecosystem, to stay in their walled garden. And that would be great if life in the Apple walled garden was a blissful as the hardest-core devotees claim; but it’s not. Frequent app hard-locks (across multiple devices and OS’es, so I know it’s not just a single bad piece of hardware) often cause me to risk losing work, or just plain lose it. Frequent device-level inconsistencies (how come disk processing spikes make mouse and keyboard use almost impossible?) annoy me. The ecosystem just ain’t that great. I’m starting to think that the one thing that Apple does well is make good hardware.

    Urgh. I should stop venting; I’ve switched to Apple. I’ll just find a way to put up with it…

  • John

    Right on. The real power comes when you install the 20 USD OS X Server app and sync everything to your own server.