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.
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.
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.
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.
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