by Tom Kaneshige

When Apple iOS Apps Go Bad

Feb 07, 20124 mins
Consumer ElectronicsiPhone

Apple cherry-picks features and integrates them into native iPhone apps, but many are mediocre and pale in comparison to third-party apps. Is Apple sending the wrong message?

A not-so-funny thing happened the other day when I fired up my iPhone and tapped the Apple Safari browser app. It had stopped working. Not all of it, just its ability to bypass the mobile version of Web sites and open up the full Web site. This was annoying to say the least.

Then it got worse: Mobile Safari wouldn’t let me get beyond the log-in stage of a Web app that I need to use for work every day.

When third-party iPhone apps go bad, I usually get them to work again by shutting down the app and restarting it. If this doesn’t do the trick, I’ll reboot the iPhone. If this doesn’t work, then I’ll delete the app and reload it from the App Store. This last method always works, even for the pesky Facebook app.

But this isn’t an option with Apple’s apps – there’s no way to delete them.


Prior to Apple’s mobile Safari tripping me up, I didn’t really have a problem with native Apple iPhone apps. Sure, the Weather app is lame compared to third-party apps, such as Weather+ and AccuWeather. The Notes app can’t compete with, say, Evernote. The shelves of the Newsstand app remain empty.

Most Apple apps are sent to the dustbin of the last screen because they can’t be deleted. I’ve even put the Newsstand app in a folder, which I call Crap Apps. (Of course, Apple won’t allow you to do this because its app is already a folder-type app, so you’ll have to do a workaround: create a folder with two apps and quickly shove the Newsstand app into it. Speed is key.)

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Regardless, Apple is trying to breathe new life into its apps. Whenever I give voice commands to Siri on my iPhone 4S, for instance, the voice-recognition software engine will complete tasks with native Apple apps: Clock, Reminders, Calendar, Contacts and, yes, Safari.

Apple has also taken great app functionality from third-party apps and baked them into its own apps and iOS. Most notably for my purposes, Safari has Reading List in Bookmarks that lets you save stories for reading later. This basically replaces Instapaper, one of my all-time favorite apps.

All of which brings me back to Safari. I used to think Web browsers on the iPhone were pretty much alike, save for a few extraneous features. That’s why I never looked too hard at third-party browser apps. Well, my outlook changed after Safari blew a gasket.

In order to access my work-related Web app on my iPhone, I needed another Web browser. I had heard some good things about Opera and decided to try out the free version – and quickly became concerned. Opera downloaded faster than an update to my Flashlight app.

The Opera iPhone browser got me past the log-in stage on my work-related data analytics Web app but fumbled when I tried to dig deeper into the data. I deleted the Opera app, fired up my iPad and did a little research. Apple users pointed me to the iPhone Web browser, Mercury.

I spent the dollar for Mercury and gave it a test-run. The app handled the Web app exactly as it should. Mercury is incredibly simple to use and fast, although I haven’t tested its speed against Safari. I plan to use Mercury as often as I can. Since Mercury doesn’t have Safari’s built-in Reading List, Instapaper will come out of retirement.

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My only problem is now one of convenience: I have two browser apps. I can’t delete Safari, and Siri will continue to conduct Web searches on Safari. I’ll also have to transfer all my bookmarks to Mercury.

From a business standpoint, Apple’s choice to build native iPhone apps and integrate features makes a lot of sense. Apple also operates under the guise that apps with integrated features are more convenient for users. But sometimes the big thinkers inside Cupertino overreach.

Apple has built the finest app ecosystem and store in the world, which, in turn, has attracted some of the brightest developers. But a single company’s developers, even Apple developers, can’t compete with the best. Third-party apps do circles around native Apple apps, even with Apple’s cherry-picking advantage.

Even worse, native Apple apps that can’t be deleted reveal Apple’s controlling ways. Apple apps that pale in comparison to third-party apps send the wrong visual: an empty Newsstand, a fourth screen filled with useless Apple apps, a broken Safari.

By entitling these mediocre apps, Apple blunts its main message to let great products rise to the top.