Four Ways to Improve the iOS Experience

Lex Friedman & Dan Moren
30 March, 2012
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Mountain Lion may be the OS that everyone’s talking about lately, but don’t think that Apple has taken its eye off its mobile operating system. Since getting into the mobile device game, Apple has rolled out an annual update for iOS, introducing new features for iPhone and iPad users. We expect 2012 to be no different.

And that’s a good thing, because a few recent developments involving the privacy of your Contacts data and the presence of phony apps on the App Store exposed a few areas needing improve- ment. Here are four ways that Apple can make both its iOS and App Store experience markedly better.

New Permissions

iOS is exceedingly careful about protecting your location privacy. Apps that want to use your geographic location must ask you for permission. You can enable or disable location detection for apps even after you’ve granted that initial permission, by visiting Location Services in the Settings app.

But if an app wants to access the entire contents of your Contacts app, it can do so freely, as we discovered when the folks behind the journaling app Path admitted to doing exactly that. To be fair, Path apologized for the address book snagging, and it’s hardly the only app to access that data—but it seems like this is one controversy that never should have happened.

Apple plans to put a privacy pop-up restriction in place before apps can get at the personal data you store with iOS’s built-in apps, just as it does for location. (That change didn’t make it into the recent iOS 5.1 update, though. It’s a smart move that won’t hamper apps that need access to your address book or calendar; rather, it will let you decide who gets to do what with your own data.

Deliver Demos

You’ve heard great things about that app—Angry Vintage Photo Filter Zombies with Friends—but you’re not sure you want to pony up $2 for it yet. Wouldn’t it be great if you could try out an iOS app before buying it?

There’s a reason to be cautious: The App Store is home to a lot of knockoff apps. In February, Apple pulled 59 games from one developer after a blatant copy of the popular game Temple Run skyrocketed to the top of the App Store’s chart of top paid downloads.

Right now, it’s up to the developer to either provide a free version of an app with fewer features or with other restrictions, or distribute a free app that users can try out before buying the full version via an in-app purchase. That’s frustrating for developers who would prefer to choose what kind of demo to offer but find themselves forced to make two versions if they want to give users a chance to try before they buy.

When developers submit their apps to the store, Apple ought to allow them to select the kind of demo version they want to offer—timed, limited to a certain number of launches, feature restricted, and so forth—and then implement a way for iOS to monitor those conditions. That takes the onus off developers and encourages users to download apps freely, and then buy only the ones they really want.

Rethinking Upgrades

Developer Tapbots recently released Tweetbot for iPad, which sits in the App Store alongside Tweetbot 2.0 for the iPhone. Each version costs $3. Anyone who has already bought Tweetbot for the iPhone has to pony up another $3 if he or she wants to buy the iPad version. We certainly have no problem with Tapbots charging custom- ers for new functionality that came out of new development and includes new features. But as owners of multiple iOS devices, we wonder why we have to buy two separate versions of the app.

The answer is that Tapbots has no real alternative. Ideally, the company could charge existing customers $3 to upgrade to a newly universal Tweetbot app, but force entirely new customers to pony up $6 instead. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t allow such pricing options in the App Store. That forces developers to launch stand-alone apps whenever they want to roll out a major upgrade, which creates a cluttered App Store and a less-than-stellar customer experience. Clearly, now that the App Store has matured, it’s time to introduce the concept of paid upgrades for major new versions—just as there are for desktop applications.

Price Controls

Along those lines, it would be handy if developers enjoyed greater flexibility over the pricing of their apps. Sure—they can drop the price for a limited time, and advertise the deal on their site or in the app’s description, or they can hand out redemption codes that allow a limited number of people to download a free copy of the app. But that’s a pale shadow of the incentives developers have long been able to offer for Mac OS apps.

Imagine if developers could distribute coupons to reward their users and allow them to try a new app with a price break. Or if they could partner with other developers to offer some sort of cross-promotion so that when you bought Studio A’s new app, you’d get 20 percent off an app from B Productions.

We know well that many users like buying bundles of apps, so why not give developers an opportunity to team up with others or even just create a package deal for their own applications? The App Store is a vibrant economy; there’s no point in handcuffing developers who are looking to build their own business while also delighting consumers with great deals.

One Comment

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  1. xenicraft says:

    I totally agree with avery aspect of this article. Someone at Apple needs to read this! iOS 5.2 here we come!!

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