Replacing default iOS apps

One of the biggest downsides to the iOS platform is its reliance on the experience from the 1st party applications, and how those applications integrate with the OS. That only holds up if the apps — developed and provided by Apple or one of their partners, like Twitter — are consistently the best-of-breed, or Apple ban development of replacements via the App Store, causing a best-of-breed situation by default.

In particular, the official Twitter client hasn’t been the best way to access Twitter for some time, and Sparrow’s recent launch has shown that 3rd parties can out-do Apple on email as well. In Sparrow’s case, Apple specifically banned 3rd party email clients for a long time, so it’s only been recently that something like it was even viable on iOS. Straight out of the block it offers a much better UI and therefore a very positive email reading experience. Hopefully it shows up on iPad soon.

Better replacements for stock iOS applications have a problem though, and in the Twitter and email case it’s really serious: the deep integration of the stock applications mean using a replacement, no matter how good, is a poor experience overall.

There’s clearly a mechanism for apps to launch other apps and pass data around; install Evernote for example and Safari on iOS will allow you to store certain downloadable filetypes inside it. But there’s no way to get iOS to recognise that you want, for example, Tweetbot or Sparrow to do Twitter and email. Lots of applications have tweet and send email capability, but you can’t push that through your preferred clients.

The same happens with Safari, where it’s the only web browser you can open from a lot of applications. I’d love other ‘send to’ functionality across the OS too. I want to be able to send any URL from a URL-aware app to Instapaper for example, where Instapaper has registered its interest in URLs on the system, without any specific Instapaper support in the app. I want iOS to join those dots for me.

It degrades the user experience on iOS devices quite severely, especially for core services like email. Sparrow should be able to register itself as the default iOS email handler without any problems.

Please make that happen, Apple, because the preferential treatment for things like Twitter or your own Mail application severely hampers the overall experience these days.