The iPhone Crapp Store

One of the most acclaimed features of the iPhone is the App Store, where iPhone users can obtain software applications from a catalog of thousands. I have purchased dozens of these apps. Unfortunately, most are awful, failing to fulfill the potential of the iPhone.

When the iPhone was released, Apple told developers that they would not let developers write native applications for the iPhone. Instead, Apple told developers to write web applications to harness the always-on, unlimited use internet connection from the iPhone. After considerable outcry and the introduction of native applications through backdoor ‘jailbreaking’, Apple relented and provided a software development kit for writing native iPhone applications. Apple also created an official ‘app store’ where developers can sell iPhone applications through Apple’s iTunes Store. Thousands of would-be developers rushed to develop iPhone applications, hoping to profit from the hype over the iPhone app store.

Now, many developers are complaining about the low selling price for iPhone applications. Personally, I think most iPhone applications are so poorly conceived or badly implemented that they are barely worth $1 or $2.

Frankly, many iPhone applications can be implemented just fine as web applications. I can only think of a few cases where native applications are warranted. First, for applications that only need to serve static content, such as an electronic map or book. Second, for applications that need full access to the iPhone hardware, such as games or GPS applications. Third, for applications that need to be useable at times when the internet connection is unreliable or unavailable, such as on an airplane.

Instead, many iPhone apps are poor implementations of simple client-server applications that could have been better implemented as web applications. I think part of the problem is that amateurs have rushed to write iPhone applications, hoping to cash in on iPhone mania.

Let me give two recent examples. I just returned from a vacation at Walt Disney World. A handy application is Lines, which gives estimated waiting times for Disney World attractions. These estimated waiting times are based on real-time updates submitted by other Lines users at Disney. This is a clever use of ‘crowdsourcing’. However, there is no reason why Lines should have been a native iPhone application: it does not need direct access to iPhone hardware, it does not provide static content, and it requires the internet connection. And in fact, Lines is buggy, crashing occasionally and often taking minutes to download just a couple of kilobytes worth of information. I think it would have taken me about a week or two to implement the functionality of Lines as a web application. And it would have been accessible to other devices besides the iPhone.

Another example is the Alaska Airlines iPhone application. This gives access to the timetable, flight arrival and departure information, etc. Again, none of this information is stored on the iPhone; the Alaska Airlines application is simply used in lieu of a web browser. And the Alaska Airlines iPhone application is cumbersome and slow.

If I had some free time, I’d write some iPhone apps and web applications. If it’s so easy for amateurs to write iPhone apps, a professional ought to be able to create something really great. And maybe make some money in the process.

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