I’ve always been interested in finding new apps for my iPhone and iPad. It’s a fun distraction to try out new workflows and see what could help me be more productive. Recently I tried Sparrow, an email client for the iPhone. I tried the app, but I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be. Afterwards, my attitude towards apps changed and I got rid of all the third party app I had that only duplicated functionality (like calendars and note taking apps). I became a lot more interested in using my iPhone with what Apple gave me, and since then I’ve enjoyed my iPhone more.
What had happened was that after spending some time with Sparrow and exploring all of its interactions, I realized every interaction Sparrow used already was introduced by some earlier app. Sparrow used a table row swipe like Tweetie, a revealable action menu like Path, a pull/push navigation like Reeder, and a slide out navigation view like Path & Facebook. To people who get a lot of email, maybe all of this is really powerful, but I was unimpressed because I didn’t see anything new. They’ve added a lot to email, but they didn’t innovate on anything.
This is the opposite of what Sparrow did on the desktop. On OS X, Sparrow striped a lot away from Mail. On the iPhone, they just added stuff.
Realizing the minimalism of Mail on iOS encouraged me to take a deeper look at Apple’s apps, like the built in Calendar and Notes application (for a long time I had been a user of apps like Agenda and Simplenote). Now that these apps are powered by iCloud, they offer a richer experience, not only at the device level, but to anyone using the suite of Apple devices. When Mountain Lion comes out, and Reminders, Messages and Notes each get their own desktop applications, this will even further be the case.
Switching to using the built in iOS apps gave me an opportunity to discover some of the powerful things they can do. For instance with Calendar and Reminders, by using iCal or iCloud.com you can share your iCloud calendar with others, and give them write access. This also works with Reminders. You can for example create a reminder list that you and your partner share, that you can both add reminders to. None of this is explained on iOS or is obvious the desktop, but it’s pretty cool.
Also, since Apple’s apps are only really updated alongside the OS there’s a lot less updating that happens. I had forgotten what it was like to not update software everyday. Before the App Store existed, I never updated software as much as I have been!
Lastly, regularly using Apple’s apps and being exposed to their skeuomorphic designs also changed the character of the device. As you use the Apple apps more frequently, the device gets more consistency. Not to say that Apple’s apps are better than others, but the iPhone feels like a better device when I’m using apps designed with a consistent set of ideas.