How Third-Party Apps Are Taking Over iOS

Third-party apps have started to become the best-in-class in iOS. This is good for third-party developers, users, and in the short-term, Apple. It gives third-parties, like Google, additional exposure and revenue. It provides better apps for users on iOS devices. And it helps sell more iOS devices for Apple. In the long-term, however, it may not work out so well for Apple.

Many people fail to see the problem with high quality third-party apps. These people are partially correct -- the apps aren't the problem. Instead, Apple's policy towards third-party apps and lack of innovation in its own apps create the problems.

First, Apple won't allow you set third-party apps as default in iOS. When it comes down to it, iOS devices are just computers. Imagine not being able to set a default third-party mail app or browser in OS X. That would never be acceptable, and it shouldn't be acceptable in iOS. The only reason it hasn't created bigger problems thus far is because Apple's apps have been sufficient for the majority of users. There also haven't been many compelling alternatives. Until now.

This brings us to a second problem. With the launch of Gmail, Google Maps and Chrome, Google is beginning to offer better iOS apps than Apple. Other apps, such as Sparrow or Fantastical are also strong alternatives Apple's offerings. The lack of a default setting makes the experience less than ideal for users, with iOS forcing you to use Apple's apps in certain situations.

Over time, some people may decide that it's easier and more seamless to use an Android device than use a bunch of Google apps on an iPhone. Year after year, Apple touts the integration of apps into iOS as new features, which are unavailable if you use third-party apps. If your core apps of choice are from third-parties and iOS creates friction when using them, people will become frustrated and eventually look at other options.

Apple isn't without solutions, however. I see two options and, ideally, both will happen. First, Apple needs to improve its core apps at a pace equal to or faster than third-party apps. Second, Apple needs to allow users to select third-party apps as default. If one or both of these things don't occur, Apple will eventually begin to lose users who prefer third-party apps, such as Google's, in a seamless, integrated, experience.

With some simple changes to iOS and its policies, Apple can turn the iPhone into an even better, and more dominant, mobile platform. However, a stubborn stance could result in a clunky, poor, user experience that will begin to drive away users.

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Picture: Lifehacker

Virtual Pants is a column that provides commentary and unique insight on the latest technology news. You will find viewpoints there that aren't expressed by others in the tech blogosphere.



    I completely agree. Half my first page of apps on my iPhone are Google apps.

    The bias in this article is interesting. Why would anyone care if Apple succeed or fail? I'm sure Mr Pants would not have the same hope for the success of RIM or Microsoft.

      Why would anyone care if Apple succeed or fail?

      I'm sure its shareholders care. What's your point? The writer wants to see better software from Apple.

        Exactly. I find that strange. I am all for better software but I couldn't care less who makes it. This guy clearly wants Apple to be good, which I find strange.

          He's just stating the facts that a major player can lose market share if they dont improve on these points. Maybe you're the one looking for bias?

          You find it strange that someone wants a company to be better? Even if they're using Apple's products and have invested a lot of money into the iOS ecosystem?

          Mr Pants also wants Apple to allow third-party integration, but (as you point out in a comment further down) that isn't likely as Apple have a history of engaging in some truly woeful anti-competitive behaviour. He even states that, and gives it as a possible road for Apple to go down in the future (i think it's inevitable, but they'll hold off for as long as possible)

          It's not exactly brain surgery, even if you happen to totally dislike the company, their products or their behaviour in the marketplace.

          Last edited 27/12/12 2:38 pm

          My god, how do you find a bias towards apple even when the article is blatantly bagging them for their closed environment. I want all companies to continue to develop better and better tech, you sound as though you just want Apple to suck and everyone to buy a Lumia 800 cause its been such a great phone for you for 2 years now.

        Pretty sure that EVERYONE wants to see better software from Apple.


            I don't. Yes, I have to put up with it every day at work but I'd rather we just switched to proper computers and were done with it. Holding out fo rbetter software from Apple just seems like wishing for the death of a thousand cuts.

      Because more sucessful players in the market drive innovation and competition.

        That is not the vibe from his writing at all. He should be happy that Google are providing apps, which he cautiously praises, but he clearly wants Apple to beat them. i.e. He wants to be able to continue to buy iPhones without becoming an Apple apologist. If Google are out-doing Apple, why not switch to Android? This guy is obviously wanting to stick with Apple, rather than just going where the best stuff is.

          You asked the question:
          Why would anyone care if Apple succeed or fail?

          And I stand by my answer.
          Many people, myself included, care because competition drives innovation.
          I cared when webOS left the market, and I'm not optimistic about RIM's future. I really hope MS finds a solid market with their offer, but it looks like a tough slog for them too.

            And as much as I dislike Apple I agree with you, I just don't think I could handle it if Android didn't really have any competition, they'd be able to do whatever they want and get away with it

            And yes I know there's Windows Phones but I just don't think they've sorted out what they're doing just yet to really gain a foothold in the smart phone market, well at least when you compare it to Android and iOS

            So how does competition specifically require Apple to succeed? Apple are just one of tens of thousands of app developers and, if anything, their success stifles competition. Their trade practices certainly do and I think competition would benefit greatly from their demise.

          But google maps for ios is better than for Android? so why switch to an inferior product, I would rather that just let me select google maps as my default.

    Im liking the look of the new WP8 phones and googles poor attitude at support of that platform is leaving a bad google taste in my mouth.

    I have an iphone 5 (which is fantastic) but i will be switching to a nexus 4 when i can get one as my device is so boring without a jailbreak... I to have a front page full of google apps!

    This is exactly my situation. I have a iPhone 4s and all my Apple default apps are stored in a folder hidden on the last screen. Sparrow, Google Maps, Chrome are my wanted defaults- even the Photo app hardly has a use, between Dropbox and Instagram/Flickr I upload and then delete (painfully slowly) all my photos.

    I agree with the sentiment regarding setting default apps. As soon as I installed Google Maps for iOS 6 the first thing I noticed was that the convenience of speaking addresses to Siri was disjointed from my mapping app of choice, Google Maps. I hope Apple provides the ability to choose default apps in the future, otherwise if too many if my preferred apps end up being Google I'll definitely jump ship to Android.

    There has to be a balance between control and consistency. Every single Windows phone has a dedicated camera key; and every single iPhone has an identical music app. These things strengthen the meaning of the brand for consumers.

    At the same time, I can understand wanting to customise default apps (which, BTW, is yet another thing S60 offered before everybody else). I want Nokia Drive/Maps to be the default mapping app on my Lumia, but instead I am lumped with Bing maps by default >_<

    I really think the only acceptable way forward for Apple is to improve their first-party apps. Full customisability is more what Android is about, and goes against the focus on consistency that has made Apple a success so far.

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