Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

2012, The Year I Basically Stopped Using Apple’s iOS Apps

As I took a moment to edit my iPhone homescreen this weekend, I realized that I use very few of Apple’s iOS apps anymore.

There are several iOS apps I have barely ever opened — Stocks, Compass and the other random preloads. But for most of the most essential apps, one by one, I’ve found alternatives that I prefer to Apple’s defaults.

Instead of Music, I like Spotify, TuneIn and Songza. Instead of Weather, I prefer Weather Live. Instead of Notes, I try to use Evernote.

More often than not lately, I find myself using a Google iOS app. I’m now using Google Maps instead of Apple Maps, Chrome instead of Safari, and Gmail instead of Mail. Those three have all made it to my homescreen, where they replaced the in-house apps.

For the record, I wouldn’t consider myself a partisan of either Google or Apple — I’m praising Google’s mobile software here, but my primary phone is still an iPhone. I think iOS is a very nice operating system. But the Google utility apps increasingly fit my needs better, for some of the most important and basic things a smartphone does.

Why? Google Maps gets me lost less frequently and syncs with my search history. Chrome has tabs and syncs with my Web history. Gmail has actual functioning email search.

Apple left low-hanging fruit for app developers with its surprisingly underdeveloped default apps and some recent screwups — but it did take years for these quality alternatives to emerge.

Despite the emerging strength of Android, Google paid particular attention to building strong iOS apps in 2012. Today’s suite of Google iOS apps are lively, colorful and fit together. The company made a combination of upgrades that are big improvements — like redesigning Gmail for the iPhone — and also launched anticipated new apps, like the in-house edition of Maps and the Chrome mobile browser.

But what’s going on here is bigger than Google just devoting design and programming resources to make nice alternatives for users who prefer a competitor’s platform.

The reason these apps are so useful to me is because I’m already so invested in the Google platform as a longtime user. The apps remember my history and my most recent state, so they can sync from one place to the other. If I use Google apps, I spend less time retyping the same information on a smaller screen, which makes me safer and less annoyed.

So, in a way, it’s really more about Google being cross-platform than making something nice for iOS. The reality is, the iPhone is just one device I might pick up throughout the day.

The best and most useful services — Facebook, Twitter, Kindle and Evernote among them — are ones that have synced apps on every screen.

Though he didn’t come out and give a nice succinct quote about it, I recall that Google CEO Larry Page harped on this notion of a “multiscreen world” many times during Google’s most recent earnings call in October.

What Page did say (with a little bit of ellipsis glue) was: “Most of us carry at least one device, all the time, every day … And we use these devices interchangeably, depending on our situation … As we transition from one screen to multiscreens, Google has enormous opportunities to innovate and drive ever higher monetization … As screens multiply, it’s more important than ever that we converge our services.”

Of course, Page described his own scenario as switching between “my Nexus phone, my Nexus 7 tablet and my new Chromebook.” The rest of us don’t necessarily have such homogenous and brand-loyal families of devices.

The thing is, we haven’t arrived in the happy converged multiscreen world yet. It’s full of friction — especially on the island of the iPhone.

For instance, I might prefer Google Maps, but iOS still automatically routes addresses to open in its own mapping app. And Apple also doesn’t make its newer and faster browsing engine available to outside developers, so Chrome for iOS isn’t competing on a level playing field with Safari.

Apple and Google are not going to stop competing anytime soon, so we users of both of them will be stuck in the middle. But at least we have more and better options.

And hopefully, that generates enough pressure for Apple to get with the modern multiscreen program in 2013.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik