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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.

"The iPhone, to some extent, hasn't really changed from what it was six or seven years ago" but Apple still provides users with the best and most complete mobile experience available today, Humphrey says. "For me, there's no argument that their UX [user experience] is the best in the world," Apple is still ahead of the curve and "constantly pushing the user experience where it needs to go. 

To continue to enhance that experience, Apple relies largely on external developers to populate its ecosystem with apps that increase functionality, as well drive usage and demand, according to Jeff Francis, cofounder and COO of the mobile design and development firm Copper Mobile.

"There are some mission-critical apps that Apple includes on a given platform, but that's not Apple's prime directive," Francis says. "Unless they see a significant business opportunity in a specific market like HealthKit or Apple Music, Apple generally leaves the app development to other players who will ultimately enrich the Apple experience."

Latest apps represent new face of Apple software

However, Apple's newest applications, such as Apple Music and the forthcoming Apple News, are indicative of a new push to reinvent its software UX. These apps represent Apple's latest attempt to innovate in industries that are riddled with complexities -- one of which (music) it has dominated for more than a decade via iTunes and another (news and information) it tried and failed to improve upon a few times in the past.

Apple isn't pursuing these new endeavors out of a desire to wow users with its design chops; instead, it sees authentic business opportunities that are ripe for the taking. "Apple Music won't change how people see Apple as a software company, but it could change how they view Apple as a music company," says Francis.

'Symbiotic' relationship between Apple software design, functionality

Apple's designers need to think beyond aesthetics, because it's more important for them to understand how customers will use apps and then determine what design choices or elements can support those use cases, Francis says. "Design and functionality are symbiotic -- excellence in one depends on excellence in the other. Great software and mobile apps cannot exist without an exhaustive commitment to design and relentless dedication to functionality."

The decisions Apple makes about its own software development and design have far-reaching implications on the entire Apple ecosystem. "If it changes something major within its ecosystem, that can cause outrage on a global scale, Francis says. "So many people rely on Apple products and software that if Apple swings and misses it can be devastating moving forward."

Meanwhile, hardware is still Apple's primary objective and greatest source of revenue. "Software's just been a competency that's sort of come along with that," says Appster's Humphrey. "Apple would want to encourage developers to build apps, probably even better than themselves, and I think that's what makes their hardware so valuable."


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