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Summary:

Apple’s iOS App Store offers one thing its competitors don’t: significantly more high quality paid and free apps. The company can hold on to that advantage by paying attention to what changes would make the most difference to developers and app users alike.

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Apple’s iOS App Store offers one thing its competitors don’t: significantly more high quality paid and free apps. The company can hold on to that advantage by paying attention to what changes would make the most difference to developers and app users alike. Here’s how it can make sure it stays ahead of latecomers like Android and RIM.

Make More Private APIs Public

Apple is pretty good about eventually letting developers have access to many APIs it originally reserved as private. Releasing these features allows developers to do new and exciting things with every major iOS iteration, and helps provide upgrade incentive by associating the new features with new hardware, even if it doesn’t necessarily require it.

If Apple wants to stay competitive, it should consider making more of these available earlier, rather than holding some back for internal use only. It’ll ensure consumers and developers stay interested, and don’t flee to Android, where access isn’t so closely guarded. In particular, providing access to hardware-button-functionality customization would make for some very interesting apps, but Apple isn’t likely to let go of that one, since it could potentially confuse more casual users of the iPhone platform. Other restriction relaxations should be much easier for Cupertino, however.

Allow Persistent Sign-Ins for Facebook/Twitter

Rumors of Apple working with Facebook to bake the social network right into the OS have been around almost as long as the iPhone itself, and yet it hasn’t happened. Putting a basic ability to sign into Facebook and Twitter account directly into the OS as a native feature would eliminate a lot of repetition from the user experience, and make it easier to share mobile content across iOS apps. Apple should be doing everything it can to court these two, and especially Facebook, with its growing influence among third-party developers.

Expand Multitasking

Like Steve Jobs, I’m not sure true multitasking really is necessary on a smartphone, but I do think the iPhone doesn’t go quite far enough when it comes to running multiple apps at once. The services it provides are a nice start, but there’s so much more it could offer.

Pastebot’s story is a perfect example. Because the app doesn’t fit any of the implementations Apple allowed for multitasking in iOS 4.0, it feels incomplete, especially now that other apps like Pandora and Google Latitude are allowed to run their primary functions in the background. Hopefully, as the OS becomes more resource-efficient, and hardware gets more powerful, we’ll see Apple introduce many more times of background capabilities for third-party apps.

Learn From Competitors

It isn’t really the company’s style, but Apple should be trying to adopt some of the better features introduced by its competitors. Better multitasking and more public APIs are two examples, but other things like Android’s widgets have a lot of promise on any mobile computing platform. Coupled with the audience iOS enjoys, which seems more willing to part with money than most, this would really help Apple retain its edge in terms of developer appeal.

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  1. Hamranhansenhansen Monday, December 27, 2010

    > make more private API’s public

    I don’t think you understand what a private API is. Going public is what happens to private API’s in the course of their regular lifespan. They are not “private” as in “Apple only,” they are “private” as in “not finished yet”. When they are finished, they become public. Apple disallowing the use of unfinished API’s in App Store is a key reason iOS is so consumer-friendly. It’s part of why apps just work and keep working even when you update your OS or device.

    > competitors. Better multitasking and more public APIs

    Competitors have worse multitasking in that they have worse battery life and worse and fewer, less powerful apps.

    Competitors have fewer public API’s … competitors don’t even have C! They have baby Java applets that run in a virtual machine.

    You have to work harder to say what Apple should do to stay ahead of competitors because the competitors aren’t actually trying to make the best phones or app platform. Google is making an ad platform, Microsoft makes a software platform for hardware makers, RIM makes a messaging platform, Nokia is trying to make the largest possible number of phones. None of them even has a mobile PC like iPad yet, let alone 50,000 native C apps for it.

    1. Multitasking – Was listening to a nephew and his friends discuss their android phones – It was all about how to kill off various processes trying to get a days worth of battery life. These were brand new phones.
      They actually wanted iPhones but live in an area where there’s absolutely no AT&T coverage.

  2. Don’t mess with perfection.

  3. I think widgets are overrated. They really don’t do much and the ones that are useful can be added by Apple without resorting to full-blown widget implementations (the multitasking bar already has good widgets if you slide left). The most useful widgets I’ve seen are the music widgets and settings toggles. Those can be easily added to the multitasking bar and there wouldn’t be much need for widgets (like on other platforms).

  4. As noted above, ‘private’ APIs are generally barred because they are unfinished and unstable– Apple reserves the right to change them or cut them out entirely. And, given that developers have written 400,000 apps without them, it’s hard to see the case that they are all that important.

    I think there could be a substantial improvement in management of ‘background’ apps– even just a list in the Settings app that allows killing them off would be better than the present setup. A better option would be a dedicated Background Manager that allows a user to assign resources and abilities to background apps and pushes out a warning when a background app is consuming resources that would be better used elsewhere.

  5. I absolutely don’t get these comments! The only one worth commenting on is multi-tasking. The stringent adherence to background processes is a user experience issue, and is perfectly rational. Believe me, Steve should be kicked in the ass for plenty of issues, but this is not one.

    If Android wants better apps, get the APIs in place for media and games. Get companies to create new models for video, music, and game consumption on the platform. Social and location has taken care of itself.

    The app gap will be gone next year. it will then be about what the user can do. This is unfortunately a losing game for Apple, since new services will primarily be an Android game, as a result of the stringent app policies.

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