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Why Apple rules UX, its native iOS apps suck, and that's OK

Matt Kapko | July 9, 2015
Some of Apple's native apps languished when the company prioritized user experience over app development. However, Apple enjoys a competitive advantage that has little to do with the apps it ships on its devices and everything to do with third-party developers.

White Apple logo on storefront

Every iPhone Apple sells today ships with 32 native applications but few, if any, are considered best in class. It may seem like Apple has lost its edge on mobile apps and software design, but the company's primary mission to sell hardware certainly hasn't suffered as a result. Indeed, the Apple experience -- a polished user interface married with premium hardware -- is as much about looks as functionality, and the technology ecosystem Apple has built continues to grow and mature.

 As of March, the company had sold 726.2 million iPhones, giving it an 18.3 percent share of the global smartphone market, according to IDC. Last November, Apple announced that it had sold more than 1 billion total iOS devices.

Some iOS users supplant Apple's stock applications, such as Mail, Calendar and Messages, with more familiar and sometimes better-designed apps, including Gmail, Outlook, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. However, for every user who relegates Apple's native apps to less desirable real estate on their home screens, maybe even junk folders, many others get everything they need from the apps that Apple provides.

Third-party developers and Apple's software ecosystem

One of Apple's most significant decisions during the past decade was to open up its mobile OS to third-party app developers, including tech heavies Facebook and Google. That decisive shift fueled Apple's ascendency, but its own native applications have somewhat fallen victim to the otherwise successful strategy.

More than 100 billion third-party apps have been downloaded, and more than $30 billion was paid out to developers since Apple's App Store launched in 2008, according to CEO Tim Cook, who also spoke last month at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference. That equates to an average at least 100 apps downloaded to every iOS device Apple sold, and it's more than three times the amount of native apps that ship with a new iOS device.

Apple is well-known for the premium ecosystem it enables across its family of devices, but many of the largest leaps in design and functionality on its platforms come from external developers. The company also to struggles with developing an ecosystem for the average users who just wants their devices to work for basic tasks, as well as for the much smaller group of users that want to fully immerse themselves in modern design or hone in on particular features or functionality. 

Josiah Humphrey, co-CEO and founder of the iOS and Android development firm Appster, says Apple isn't necessarily losing its edge when it comes to software, but the company may not be innovating at the same pace as it has in the past.


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