Apple's iOS Apps
Utter the words “I use the stock apps on my iPhone” in a group of nerds and you will surely be flooded with all the reasons you are “doing it wrong”. In the not too distant past of iOS this was absolutely deserved by all rights. With every new year that rolls around, we see another update to iOS, and along with that overall update, we get updated versions of each of the default Apple apps that come as part of the OS. This year is no exception with the upcoming iOS 9. Most of Apple’s apps get minor updates with each release, but with iOS 9 we are going to see a pretty major revision to a lot of the Apple properties.
With each revision to iOS, I like to go back and check out all the stock apps to see how they have changed and to see if they meet my needs for the particular task they are designed for. There are so many amazing third party apps written by talented developers on iOS, but no matter how good they are, there are always small things that the apps are simply not allowed to do. The integration of Apple’s apps will always be that little bit more. The truth is, if a stock app does what I need, I am more than happy to use it - and sometimes prefer it - due to that extra bit of integration. I will even occasionally put up with some deficiencies in the app because I do get that extra integration benefit as a trade off.
Siri is an area of iOS where this extra integration really pays off. Siri is able to interact with Apple’s apps on a much deeper level than third party apps. This may not always be the case, and hopefully will change in upcoming versions of iOS; but, as it is still the case within iOS 9, we can assume it will be at least another year before Siri can interact at this level with third party apps. Siri, as a service, continuously improves and enables more hands free use of our devices, which is a great direction for users. With Siri on the Apple Watch and combined with HomeKit, we are enabled to become more detached physically from our devices without losing the connected benefits they provide.
Notes is not an app I seriously used until very recently. When notes was a yellow legal pad with a felt tip marker font, I wanted nothing to do with it. With the iOS 7 UI refresh, the app became at least approachable to most. I have used many different note taking solutions through the years, and recently grew tired of fighting with the solution I was using. I decided to give Apple Notes a try. A month later, I am still using it full time as my main bucket for notes. The update to Notes for iOS 9 is going to really make this switch worth it, I believe. The new features of iOS 9 will make it a real contender for most people who currently use other solutions that don’t offer the same level of integration. When it comes down to it, I need my notes to be with me on all devices and Notes is doing that for me. I do have the occasional sync issue, but it tends to fail pretty gracefully, and I end up with duplicate notes rather than missing notes. This I feel will improve as more things move to iCloud syncing.
Reminders is another app that I have used on and off. When it comes to getting stuff done, I have gone through the entire spectrum on solutions and workflows. Omnifocus > Things > Omnifocus 2 > Todoist. What do I use now? I actually use Reminders as my full time single “GTD bucket”. This would blow most people’s minds, but its effectiveness is in its simplicity. I need to capture stuff and then do it. Reminders does this and has all the scheduling options I need. I am not at all saying this would work for everyone, but it certainly works for me. Using Siri to add new items to my lists is really great. The backend sync could be improved, and I believe it is going to be with the upcoming iOS 9, as more things switch to iCloud sync rather than the old IMAP standard. UPDATE: I am back on Todoist and happier than ever! Reminders is great, but when it get's complicated, it breaks down pretty quickly.
Calendar has not always been my calendar of choice. There are plenty of other great calendar apps, but there were two things that made me decide to switch to iOS’ default. For one, the icon date. I am one of the people who looks at the icon for the current date. The default Calendar’s icon updates with the current date, while others cannot. Like Siri, this is another area where I would like to see APIs opened up for third parties. Second is the fact that it supports all calendar types, so I can use a single app. Using two calendar apps is not a great solution for me, so I just use the one and it does what I need. The Calendar app on my phone is mostly a viewing app, whereas the majority of event editing and creation I do on my Mac with Calendar.app or Fantastical’s great natural language parser. Being that I use the calendar app on my phone in this way, I don’t need a lot of the bells and whistles of other calendar apps when I am on the go.
Mail is another app that has a ton of great alternatives on iOS. Most of these apps have clever ways for dealing with email while on the go. Most of those features are also for email services I don’t use, so they are of no benefit to me. No matter what email app you use, when you send from a link, it will use the Apple Mail app. This means you need to have all your accounts in Apple Mail anyway, so why not just use it. Again, I don’t find using multiple apps for the same purpose to be helpful to me. The majority of my mail handling happens before it gets to my device (Sanebox & Mail rules) anyway, so the on-device tools become less necessary.
Podcasts is the one area where I am going the other way. Plain and simple, it does not work. The sync does not work at all and there seems to be reason for it. No matter the setup, it doesn’t sync reliably. Between mobile and mobile, computer and mobile… nothing. I have had instances where it won’t even keep things straight on a single device. Quite literally, every time there is any update to iOS, I immediately go and check to see if sync works. As of 8.4, it still doesn’t. I need this app to do 2 things: play audio and sync. That’s it. Until it can do that, I cannot give it the honor of being in the primary position for its task. Fingers crossed for iOS 9. UPDATE 2015-10-19: Sync works now and everything is going great with Podcasts.app now!
Maps has gotten a lot of negative reviews since its launch, but for me I have not really had any overall problems with it. It has given me erroneous directions occasionally, and had some crashing issues at one point, but overall, it does what it is supposed to do. I am not saying this is the perfect app for everyone; again, for my particular limited use case, it’s fine. If you rely on public transit, you will hopefully be in luck with iOS 9. Once again, the Siri integration makes Maps super easy to use.
Camera is arguably one of the most important iOS apps to me. This is another area where there are a ton of really awesome applications for taking and manipulating photos, but every single one of them has the same small thing that they cannot do, and that is to be a shortcut on the lock screen. When you want to take a photo, you more than likely want to do it quickly. There is no quicker way to take a photo with the iPhone than sliding up from the bottom on the lock screen. Until the lock screen is opened up to third parties for shortcuts, the Apple Camera app will be my main camera for capturing. With the new extensions available in Photos for iOS 9, it opens up a great world for editing more seamlessly, which I cannot wait for! I also have to say that the iCloud Photo Library has been really great and works without any issues for me. Having my entire library of photos on all of my devices is a dream come true.