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Opinion: Apple should lead iOS feature adoption, encourage major players to follow

iPad iOS 9 Lead

There’s been a lot of conversation this week around the quality of Apple’s software and services, and yesterday’s brief App Store outage certainly didn’t help. It’s true that new services like Apple Music and iCloud Photo Library are improving but aren’t rock solid yet, but there are two things that currently sour the app experience for me.

First, Apple only does a so-so job of implementing new software features from operating system updates into their own apps. It’s too easy to rattle off a dozen examples. Second, major players like Facebook and YouTube don’t have first class apps that showcase new software features either, and this is where customers spend the most amount of time.

I’ll make the case starting with Apple’s iPhone apps.

The larger iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models introduced in September 2014 made landscape apps more useful than ever — you can see more on bigger, wide screens — and the Plus model even has a landscape Home screen mode where the dock shifts to the right and apps dynamically relocate.

Apple has special modes for many of its apps like Weather and Clock in landscape mode, but several major apps on iOS still only work in portrait mode which makes the landscape Home screen rather frustrating. For example, launch Music from the landscape Home screen and you’re pushed back into portrait mode.

Similarly, the lock screen doesn’t rotate and other major apps like Phone, Wallet, Health, Activity, and Podcasts are locked in a portrait world.

So it’s no surprise that major third-party apps like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube only support landscape mode in certain instances if at all and not at launch.

Weather landscape

Take a look at 3D Touch on the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus as another example. iOS 9.3, which is still in beta and not widely available yet, makes progress here, but not all of Apple’s own apps take advantage of the new pressure sensitive display technology.

And maybe not every iPhone app should use 3D Touch, but I can see uses for Activity, iCloud Drive, the new Music Memos app, and Apple’s other apps that don’t have quick actions yet.

Plenty of third-party apps including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter do a good job of making use of 3D Touch on Apple’s flagship iPhones, but Facebook is only testing it inside its app for some users and it’s nowhere inside of Twitter’s app.

This takes me to my next point, which is that I believe Apple should be strongly encouraging major apps to use new software features like landscape modes and 3D Touch gestures. I don’t know what degree to which this already happens (aside from App Store collections to showcase good players), but it has to be hard for Apple to encourage developers to play ball when its participation is only mixed.

3D Touch Notes

Look no further than the iPad to see examples of major third-party apps not ready for prime time, especially on the iPad Pro. Since the iPad Pro was introduced in September and launched in November, you may be surprised to learn that Facebook, Netflix, and YouTube are still blown up, rather fuzzy apps on the 12.9-inch tablet.

The bigger iPad has a different screen resolution than either the iPad mini or iPad Air versions, but there was a two month lead and two months since then to get everything in order.

And the difference can be seen on smaller iPads that have been around for ages, too, as iOS 9 features that were introduced to developers in June 2015 still aren’t being used in these apps. No side-by-side usage with Split View or Slide Over, and certainly no picture-in-picture video playback from Netflix or YouTube (without using alternative apps).

I’d recommend that someone from Apple HQ in Cupertino drive over to Facebook’s and YouTube’s offices and offer to help make these apps look and work like first class apps on iPads, especially the Pro, but Apple hasn’t completed the job on their own apps yet either.

(To be fair to Facebook, the Messenger app is native resolution on iPad Pro and supports iOS 9’s Split View feature, but the messaging app being updated and the main app not is all the more curious, especially when Facebook is still technically baked into the operating system’s share sheet and settings.)

Just this week, Apple updated its Trailers app to appear natively at iPad Pro resolution, for instance, but it lacks Split View and picture-in-picture which is hard to understand for a video playing app.

In December, Apple updated its Remote app to highlight that it works with the new Apple TV after two months without support, but the app actually worked the day before with a tvOS update alone and didn’t require an app update. While Apple pushed out a new version number, it didn’t actually update the Remote app to use the iPad Pro’s native resolution. That’s not a huge deal for this app since it’s mostly a big swipe pad, but the search keyboard still uses the big fat iPad Air keyboard scaled up … in one of Apple’s own apps. There’s a new one in the works, too, but in the meantime…

Remote isn’t alone. Other Apple apps that are still blown up and fuzzy on the iPad Pro include AirPort Utility (which makes Apple’s pricey routers worth it), the Apple Store app (where you can shop using Touch ID and Apple Pay), and Music Memos (a brand new app released last month when GarageBand was updated) which only work in portrait on all iPads — including the Pro which encourages a landscape-mode Smart Keyboard accessory.

And it’s not just iPad apps from Apple that haven’t been updated to support the higher screen resolution that make this case.

Split View Nope

Plenty of Apple’s apps either don’t support Split View or only partially support it. The problem here is that it both breaks the experience for customers and doesn’t push developers to prioritize adding iOS 9 features in their own apps.

When using Split View on the iPad, opening any number of Apple apps including Music (where videos don’t PIP), App Store, iTunes, and Settings will hijack the experience and take you back to full-screen again. Imagine having several apps on the Mac only work in full-screen mode. No good.

Other examples include more complicated, creative apps like GarageBand and iMovie, which are updated for the iPad Pro’s screen size but don’t work with any iPad’s multitasking. You could argue that this class of app doesn’t scale easily, but both apps have iPhone versions and similar apps like Algoriddim’s djay impressively support Split View perfectly on iOS 9.

And curiously, certain Apple apps that do support Split View only partially work for now. Podcasts and iBooks are two examples: you can view content you already have, but Apple serves up a warning when you try to browse sections that rely on the web.


I can appreciate that there are different teams working on different projects within Apple, but the company has a heads up on when new features are in the works, and if not there may be an opportunity for some better organization to ensure Apple leads the effort for adopting new software features.

You never know, big players just might follow (although I’d love to know that there was pressure and collaboration going on behind-the-scenes to make Facebook’s, Netflix’s, and Google’s apps all iPad-worthy) and iPad sales just might climb out of the downward slope they’re on.

As it stands now, indie app developers and smaller companies seem to be doing the best work on iOS: software like Fantastical, 1Password, Instapaper, Reeder, and Tweetbot that have been my go-to apps for years are all leading the iOS 9 adoption effort.

And it’s indie developers, too, that are working to bring PIP to YouTube. Kudos to Hulu, HBO, and other big companies that are playing ball here.

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  1. Jason Hovde (@hovtweet) - 7 years ago

    I agree that Apple should be promoting and using these features throughout their own apps. Another thought I had recently, after logging into the fitbit app again, as I have to do with many apps after every update, is to request that apps be able to complete updates without the user having to log in as though it is a brand new phone or new setup. There must be a way to do an update without causing the user login info to be lost, since many apps seem to do this. This, I believe, is something Apple should push developers to make happen.

  2. PMZanetti - 7 years ago

    Glad to see this article.

    Personally I believe that Apple should not only be leading the charge, they should be taking a heavy hand with Apps that do not incorporate enough OS-specific features.

    – Apps should have a deadline to support new device resolutions, or be removed from the store. 12 months is fair.

    – Apps that want to advertise as belonging to a certain Category, should have a deadline for incorporating new features specifically designed by Apple for Apps of that Category. 12 months is also fair.

    • Apple is the ultimate steward of their platforms. If they don’t lead by example, can’t expect anyone else to follow.

    • PMZanetti - 7 years ago

      I’m sorry if it sounds harsh, but third party developers do not particularly impress me with their Apps, unless they are basically shells for incorporating the bullet points of every major iOS release. Those are always the best Apps, and there is little exception. I want my Apps to be what Apple wants them to be….this is what all their time and effort and R&D goes into. The feature sets they roll out, and the 1-2 thousand new APIs per year, are not just for bragging. They are the keys to making great Apps.

      • Agreed. Although giving developers a hard deadline of 12 months is a little short. I would say 24 months then be removed from App Store.

      • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

        No 12 months is way too long. 6 months max. The App Store is 99.8% garbage apps. FORCE QUALITY. Force originality. Stop accepting. It’s embarrassing.

        It was nice to say you have 1 million apps vs. the competitor’s 100 apps, but the competitor may have every app necessary to have, that’s how many worthless apps there are.

        If I were Schiller I’d implement major new rules. Apps must support the new resolution and features, if obviously applicable, within 6 months of the iOS feature being available. Legacy Apps must be updated to the latest OS version or they are removed from the store. Still available for download from previous purchasers, but no longer available to new purchasers. Also, no longer counted in total app availability numbers.

        Apps must show originality in some manner, or they are rejected.

        If bugs persist in an app and it’s representative in reviews, the app is removed from the store until fixed.

    • I will say that Apple does usually set deadlines when they have certain new design languages. I remember last year I think, that all new or updated apps had to be compatible with 4″ screens or higher. So probably by next year they’ll force new apps and updates to include certain features. Really hoping iCloud keychain is one of them because so far only one app I’ve used, uses it though Apple made it seem like everyone was gonna be doing it

  3. Oliver Saalfeld - 7 years ago

    I have this issue since I use ios devices but not with new ios features since the iphone 6 but much longer with the services. I was really suprised to see that not all of this services are available in all countries and languages which ios support. Every service is country and language dependent and per service this lists are differnt. Or is Siri now available in all countries? No. Or search results? Or suggestions in maps? Or descriptions in music? Or…
    I have the impression that this list becomes longer and longer with every new service, apple is introducing. Apple pay available where? Apple news? ….

  4. bytesbobs - 7 years ago

    Major third party players must really be a pain. Look at Instagram which has Facebook money and still doesn’t have an iPad specific version or support for multiple accounts. Facebook’s implimentation of live photos is embarassing but at least they have it compared to others out there. I feel the reason is because too many users complain to Apple instead of complaining to the specific companies and making them look bad on social media. When you look at major players like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram. They have less of an excuse since they aren’t putting out services, apps and new hardware.

  5. o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

    Here is Apple in a nutshell:

    Amazing hardware, the best in the world

    Amazing software, the best in the world, but getting worse, slow to update, slow to add features, accepting incomplete work for launches

    Starting to release unfinished products and services which needed to wait months to years before their official launches.


    Stop releasing products that aren’t satisfactorily finished. Stop using 5 engineers because you want only the best, and secrecy which never happens. You need employees to get work done, the smartest people decide what happens, and then you get smart people to work to implement it in time.

    The fact that 3D Touch quick actions are still being implemented at iOS 9.3, is laughably embarrassing. It says that they don’t have anyone working on it, and they release unfinished products. The fact that (so far) iOS 9.3 betas include NO NEW music app quick actions is so sad. I’d fire so many people due to that. They don’t have anyone smart enough to consider quick actions for the music app like: ‘Shuffle All’ ‘Play Recently Added’ ‘Play Top Charts’ etc.

    It’s so funny looking at Apple’s software. You look at any of their software, from iOS, to tvOS, and you know there will be so many more features, but they will come in the next version of iOS, even though they should have been there in this version, or previous versions. For example, Touch ID protected notes. Anyone that isn’t even smart knows that Touch ID notes should have been there since iOS 8, (really iOS 7, but I’m giving them a break), and password protected notes should have been there since iOS 5 at least.

    No password or Touch ID protected photo albums? Just the ability to put them in an album called ‘Hidden’ wherein anyone who was looking at albums would actually seek out due to its labeled ‘Hidden’ name? The stupidity here is so great, it’s indescribable frankly.

  6. Po-Tau Fan - 7 years ago

    If Apple wants, they can have all these nagging little problems with their software fixed by the first quarter of 2016. It’s not difficult in terms of programming. They just don’t want to devote enough resources to it. The logic is simple: just be good enough when it comes to software. Since the attention has always been on hardware specs, having a superior user experience doesn’t pay enough to justify the cost needed to achieve it. They know that to maximise profit all they have to do is do a better job than Google so people on the Android side are enticed to switch and a good enough job so people who’re already locked into Apple’s ecosystem aren’t compelled to leave. Constantly switching software engineers back and forth between multiple platforms doesn’t help either.

    • just-a-random-dude - 7 years ago

      If it is not difficult, then why the rest of the market haven’t adopted to support all of the iOS 9 features like everything Zac just mentioned in this article?

      The reality is that software cannot exceed what Apple limits to the iOS’s public APIs. They cannot use private APIs. Which means, the entire iOS app market is dependent on Apple providing quality APIs and updating it at acceptable pace. They are not responding fast enough to fix bugs that the developers are filing into Radar, they continue to take longer and longer to review app updates and more.

      Look at the Safari extensions as an example. Many companies have released updates to their Safari extensions several months ago and Apple still has not released them, despite the fact that they paid 100$ a year for this right.

      Apple is getting worse over time and at some point, enough is enough, we’ll simply stop updating our stuff and move on to something else.

  7. 4nntt - 7 years ago

    I hope FaceBook takes their iPad app seriously some day. The iPad should be the ideal form factor for viewing photos and interacting with Facebook, but the UI is awful and there is no split screen support.

  8. Gary L. Wade - 7 years ago

    Every release of iOS I submit a bug about the locked portrait mode on iPhones, and every time someone at Apple says it’s working as designed. I’d suggest everyone contact whomever they feel appropriate within Apple to get this really bad “design” fixed.

  9. Gary L. Wade - 7 years ago

    By the way, while 3D touch may not be available on all devices, some apps do provide a 3D-touch-like option for earlier devices, so no app really has an excuse for not providing contextual options. The way older devices may be supported is by using what iOS app developers know as the edit menu. You can see this if you have Speak Selection turned on under Settings:General:Accessibility:Speech and you press and hold a text bubble in the Messages app, giving you the option to Speak the text. As an aside, it’s fun to hear it describe emojis.

  10. Apple’s software has gone mediocre. Apple prevents software developers from taking advantage of APIs that would enhance user experience. Apple has forgotten what interface guidelines mean. I finally got a look at the iPad Pro. (Nothing really pro about it except size and Pencil support). The interface looks like Fisher-Price. There is more screen real estate dedicated to empty space than there is for Application icons.

    Ive cannot design software that humans can use. I know. He can make it thinner.

    • Lawrence Krupp - 7 years ago

      Every word of every sentence… wrong.

      • Aunty T (@AuntyTroll) - 7 years ago

        “There is more screen real estate dedicated to empty space than there is for Application icons. ”

        So you think that sentence is wrong. Really?

      • Charlypollo - 7 years ago

        The only sentence in your comment… Useless.

    • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

      I agree that the iPad software is awful. It was only compounded by the introduction of the iPad pro which does nothing more to use the space.

      Their hardware is still by far the best, and I think their software is too, but their software could use an insane amount of work.

  11. uniquified - 7 years ago

    I am sometimes baffled by the lack of landscape mode in iOS apps. Like Music, Phone (could switch automatically to speaker if on a call since it would be awkward to hold to you ear in this mode), and the task switcher (which can’t dynamically switch).

  12. sword2pen - 7 years ago

    I’m glad someone said it! This article is a nice, factual read :)

  13. sstba11 - 7 years ago

    totally agree. About youtube: all google software on iOS is not really integrated in iOS – using too much self-brewed weird UI – so I’m not surprised with it. Facebook – looks awful on iPad Pro – I’m just calling it in safari there.
    Using the iPhone in the car (double suction mini cup on the media screen) it’s really really annoying that music doesn’t have a landscape mode – to change the music while driving.

  14. sally (@FedGoat) - 7 years ago

    apple dot com / feedback
    everyone needs to send feedback to apple. Apple, under tim and angela, is taking a turn for the worse.
    iOS 8 and 9 were crazy bad at release. They take forever implementing anything new.
    the iPad pro is a 12.9″ gimmick. 3D touch is a joke. I have the 6S+ and never even use the feature. it’s just dumb and useless.
    I love my mac and iphone. I honestly do. but I also think apple is in serious trouble.
    I think the 7 will be a flop. (compared to their normal sales trend, other companies will still envy the numbers) I think the 7S is going to be their lowest sales numbers they’ve ever seen. I think they will go below 10% market share before iPhone 8 hits.
    Die hard apple fans are finally seeing past the smoke and mirrors, and they aren’t liking what they see.

  15. chrislaarmansite - 7 years ago

    I sympathize with Android. I try to alternatingly use my Android and iOS devices. That may be the best way to appreciate the achievements in iOS.

  16. avalonharmon - 7 years ago

    I’ve been saying on this site for many months now that it is not the hardware thats the issue with apple, its the software. Apple used to be a really great software company as well as hardware company. But for the last few years they have fallen asleep at the wheel when it comes to software. They really need larger man power and servers investment to keep up with there growing client base and devices. It just seems like at this point apple is stretched too thin and just can’t keep up all aspects (the software, hardware and distributions of products) of the business as uniformed as they used too. Apple really just needs more people and a bigger building there move to there new campus honestly can’t come quick enough.

    • Gary L. Wade - 7 years ago

      Rather than more people, they need to hire senior people who actually have experience, not college graduates, and these experienced developers also should be the ones running things, not someone who took an intense three-week Cocoa class.

  17. iamrefresh - 7 years ago

    I need a like star for this article.

  18. My first question to the author is this… “are you a developer?”. My guess is no. Let explain something.

    The primary goal of any app is to make sure that it is as stable as possible. iOS updates since iOS 8 have had serious issues that require workarounds. Most of my last year was spent trying to resolve terrible networking (WiFi and Bluetooth) issues with iOS 9. Many times it is much safer to stick with compiling on the previous year’s iOS version to ensure compatibility. For instance, an app I make updated their frameworks in such a way that I either use the old version which supports iOS 5 and higher, or I move to the newer version which only supports iOS 8 and higher. Basically if you move to compiling with the new version of iOS, you may be causing a support nightmare for users that haven’t upgraded. For more complex apps that utilize many frameworks, this become compounded. For instance, I can only support the iOS version once all of the frameworks that I use support that platform. This can take a few months to get worked out properly.

    This is also compounded by the number of users you have. So more popular apps will be less likely to be on the “bleeding edge” of technology unless they are supported with a large number of developers. Free apps would be less likely to move fast. Many apps are made by smaller development shops. If you don’t have programmers in house, then you need to work out a scope of work and subcontract these changes to support newer iOS versions and features. This can take time as well… and you’re trying to run a business and support your users.

    It’s a much better idea to wait unless there is a pressing reason to do so. We are seeing many app developers beginning to embrace new form factors (iPad Pro), but it takes time. We are only 2-3 months since ANY developer outside of Apple had the chance to compile to an iPad Pro. Assuming that you don’t already have a project plan on your app and a million other features and bug fixes in progress, now throw into the mix support for new screen resolutions, usage patterns, pen drawing and 3D Touch. This is not something that you can release overnight… at least not safely.

    I’m updating my app (called OnSong) to support iPad Pro features but not 3D Touch (because it’s primarily an iPad app which doesn’t support 3D Touch at this time anyway and isn’t fully supported the way I’d like in the OS). I’m supporting the new screen size and multitasking as well as picture in picture video for video tutorials within the app… but this came with a HUGE testing liability and we are STILL testing to make sure things are as perfect as we can. While much of the coding was done in early January, we are still testing and finding issues that iOS 9 caused and we are still testing on our iOS 5, 6, 7, 8 devices too. Feel free to review just one of our updates release notes:

    So yes, in a perfect world, we could all snap our fingers and it would be done. But it’s not that easy unless you want to piss off your entire user-base with buggy software. There is a balance. I doubt any of you understand the intricacies of staying on the bleeding edge while remaining stable to support paid customers.


Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news, hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour podcast, and created