How Apple Should Protect the App Gap

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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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