Why iPhone/iPad Apps Show Us The Future

Why do we here at Appculture focus only on iPhone/iPad apps? Why do we ignore the millions of Android and Blackberry users out there?

Because iPhone apps are better. I mean it.

There are five simple reasons why I believe iOS apps, and the App Store, matter more to the long-term progress of mobile software.

 

1. Phone apps are built on an insanely high-quality foundation

The amount of work that went into the iPhone SDK (software development kit) is nothing short of astounding. When you sign up as an iPhone developer, Apple provides you with:

  • thousands of lines of pre-made (and well-made) code to work with, providing easy ways to hook up complex functions
  • clear guidelines on how apps should look and behave, and how they should treat the user– just like the Mac, which is the only computer platform with a standard for interface design
  • a standardized, universal platform where every feature and function is already known and not subject to change (every iPhone has a camera, bluetooth, a specific screen size, Wi-Fi, GPS, etc.)
  • a polished, agile environment to work in (called XCode, it’s the same tool one uses to build Mac OS X apps)
  • actual phone support (at the higher membership levels) where an engineer can help step through your code.

No other mobile device has this level of polish, guidance, and preexisting work already completed. For a tremendous amount of things one might want to build, the pieces are already made and tested–they need only to be assembled. For everything else, one need only follow Apple’s interface guidelines to build apps that are (for the most part) sensibly-designed, functional, and beautiful. iPhone apps lead the way in providing advanced functions wrapped in beautiful and understandable design.

 

2. The App Store (ultimately) leads to better quality software

The App Store’s “walled garden” approach–where Apple controls access to the marketplace, and tests each app before approval– has divided the industry. Many see it as a control freak’s ultimate fantasy: an arena where only “approved” software has a chance, and innovation or “going against the grain” is stifled completely. TechCrunch in particular has voiced their (somewhat paranoid) fear that in the future, “all apps — desktop and mobile — might be distributed through iTunes“.  A former Sun executive took it a step further, saying that ”the iPhone vision of the mobile internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It’s a sterile Disneyfied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers.”

The “walled garden” also becomes a problem when an app is rejected upon submission. It’s terrifying to think of working on a program for months, only to have it rejected for what seem like arbitrary reasons. I feel for these developers, I really do. Apple will hopefully get a lot more consistent about their approval process: this is a major, understandable concern.

However, many millions of people find that the software that is available on the App Store is, at least for the most part, more stable, more useful, and more secure than software available for Android or Blackberry OS. Google’s App Store for Android is “sort of like the Wild West”: there is little oversight, and Google only removes apps when enough users indicate that they are illegal or malicious. Recently, in fact, several Android apps were revealed to be collecting personal information behind the scenes.

This isn’t to say that one can’t create fantastic apps on Android or Blackberry– just that this is the exception, not the rule.

 

appstore-update-20100607.jpg3. The iPhone and its apps were built as a complete experience

The iPhone was the first smartphone that was actually smart. It introduced gestural navigation (pinch, pull, slide, tap) to millions. It designed an interface around the idea that you use it with your fingers, not with a mouse or with keys. You interact with it differently depending on what you’re doing. You experience the Web as it really appears, not as a stripped-down facsimile. There are no real compromises, and apps are meant to do only the thing they were designed to do. (Contrast this with Android, in which software can arbitrarily drain the battery without cause).

The iPhone also put formerly-advanced technologies– GPS, bluetooth, web browsing on a small device– into an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand package that didn’t do the stupid things a PDA would– like crash. It backed up its entire contents to your computer. Its keyboard learns from your typing. And its built-in apps were custom-made to provide just the right balance between function and usefulness. No clutter. No confusion. Everything was designed to work together, by the same company. And if you wanted more advanced features, well, there are 200,000 other apps available.

Love it or hate it, Apple’s philosophy for the iPhone changed the world. It literally introduced the idea of quality software on a large scale.

 

4. The iPhone is a standardized device

Every Android phone runs a different version of Android, with different features. Google’s first and only phone, the Nexus One, is no longer being made. There is no consistency whatsoever, aside from the basic underlying technologies (which may or may not be supported in a given phone).

To me, this seems totally absurd. What do you think?

 

 

keyboard

 

5. iPhone apps were tested longer, used longer, and used more than their competitors (so far)

At this point, the iPhone has been out longer than any other smartphone; there are more users of iPhones, and thus more instances of a given iPhone app than the competition. This means they have had additional time for testing, quality control, and the adding of features. This will obviously change over time, but it means that what was originally a high-quality platform has become even more so. The difference is striking.

“Android may be open, it may be growing exponentially, but its model is something even I want to get away from,” writes a blogger at WMExperts. Spending time in phone forums playing Sherlock Holmes is not my idea of fun anymore.”


Bonus reason: Don’t Even Mention the iPad

This needs to be saved for another day, but I strongly believe that the iPad is among the most important products in the history of computer technology. While it was initially met with a lot of skepticism (especially from me!), it quickly proved that simple, intuitive, thoughtful design was the way of the future. Many of its users, growing accustomed to its always-on, go-anywhere design and the fact that one needs to charge it about every nine days or so, have quickly ceased using their laptops for all but the most specific and technical of tasks. In this way, iOS shows that a new interface paradigm is the way forward.

Summary

There are plenty of amazing features in Android that the iPhone may never get. The Palm Pre still has the coolest multitasking and notification system I’ve ever seen, and it’s totally impossible to do on the iPhone in its current state. (The Pre also has a beautiful OS; the nicest I’ve seen). Palm Pre notificationsLikewise, Android has refunds of app purchases– a major win.  This post is not to debate the individual features of each platform– merely to provide reasons why I feel that the iPhone compass points, more reliably, in the direction of quality. Apple has created a demand for quality that Android may one day provide, but simply has not yet shown it can deliver. And Apple has, consistently, produced the highest-quality software of any company of its kind.

That’s why, in our search for the movers and shakers of the mobile world, we primarily review apps available for iOS.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!!

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