Slow down, Apple: Perfect your iOS apps before moving to Android

Android fans might appreciate using Apple apps, but they don't need the same old Apple kinks.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook let an intriguing bit of news slip earlier this week at a town hall meeting with the company's employees. Apple Music for Android was apparently just a first step: The company is considering bringing more of its software and services to Google's mobile OS.

It sounds a little crazy, as Apple's message for decades has been how well its software and hardware work together. But both Google and Microsoft are infiltrating iOS with their own excellent apps, pushing many of Apple's services to the side. Cook may feel he needs to fight back and bring more Apple apps to Android -- but he first needs to make sure the company's software runs better on its own hardware than it currently does.

It's a refrain you've likely already heard. Many of Apple's apps and services have become too buggy to recommend using full time, or they're entirely outclassed by what Google offers. Raise your hand if you have a folder on your iPhone full of native Apple apps you never use ... yup, that's a lot of you. Now raise your hand if you use iCloud Mail, iCloud Drive or the default iOS Notes or Reminders apps instead of third-party options like Gmail, Dropbox, Wunderlist, Evernote and so on. Not nearly as many of you are raising your hand this time.

I don't want to wax hyperbolic and say that Apple's software is irrevocably broken and not worth using. I actually use nearly all of its services pretty extensively, and when they work well they are absolutely better at working across multiple Apple devices than a lot of third-party options. ICloud Calendar, Notes, Reminders and even Apple's email app with iCloud Mail work fine if your needs are basic, and the way they integrate between iOS and OS X is a killer feature. But, true to form, there isn't a lot of customization or flexibility there.

Apple's apps have become either too bloated and complex or too basic with key features missing.

And if the app isn't too basic, it's too overwrought and complex. The greatest examples of these problems are illustrated in iTunes, which has grown into an unwieldy, bloated monster that does too many things at once, and Apple Music, which is powerful but not terribly intuitive. The company's new Photos app for the Mac and corresponding iCloud Photo Library for iOS are more examples: Once you take the time to figure out how they work, they're a solid, sometimes excellent solution. But at first glance, understanding how your photos are backed up and synced through iCloud is not at all clear.

Then there are the bugs. I frequently have an infuriating time making AirDrop work. My first experience with the company's new Music Memos app led to song sketches disappearing and reappearing at iCloud's whim. And too often I find that the App Store isn't downloading updates for me, even though I have auto-update turned on. None of these are dealbreakers per se, but I wager that most iOS users have their own list of bugs that pop up from time to time with no apparent explanation.

That's not to say that the competition is perfect, either. No software works flawlessly all the time, and Apple does a lot of things right. Continuity and Handoff between the Mac and iPhone are great features, and iMessage for Android would be an absolutely killer app. But it would be even better if Apple tightened up its software ship first. I get excited every year when Apple shows off upcoming iOS and OS X updates at WWDC, but things rarely play together as well as they do in the company's expertly managed demos.


That doesn't mean there isn't an upside for Apple here: Cook is clearly looking at the success Google and Microsoft have had bringing their services to iOS lately. Microsoft has been unable to get people to buy its phones, but under CEO Satya Nadella, the company now offers Office, Bing and even Cortana on the screens people use the most -- that's iOS and Android. And for years now Google has put nearly all of its often-excellent services on Apple's platforms. (The less we talk about the one notable exception, the abominable Gmail for iOS, the better.)

Apple might try the "put your apps where everyone is" strategy that Google and Microsoft have used.

Historically, Apple has resisted this strategy, refusing to bring its software to platforms it doesn't control. ITunes and now Apple Music have been the notable exceptions, and both served an obvious purpose. ITunes for Windows helped accelerate iPod sales, and the dominance of the iTunes Store eventually made it easier for everyone to buy an iPhone back when you needed iTunes to manage your phone. And mobile is probably the most important place a streaming service needs to be; not having Apple Music on Android would make it nearly impossible to compete with Spotify.

The case for bringing other services to Android is a little murkier, but basically it comes down to the same "put your software where users are" strategy that Google and Microsoft already follow. Android won the market-share battle, and that's not going to change anytime soon. But having access to services like iMessage, the iCloud suite, the iTunes Store and Apple's new photo-syncing solution would make using an Android phone with a Mac (or an iPad) a lot easier. And Apple made it clear last week that it will rely on its growing services business to drive revenue in the months to come.

If Apple can simplify its more complex apps while adding a few features to its more basic offerings, a cross-platform Apple app suite would be a lot more appealing. There's a middle ground that the company has had a hard time hitting lately in software design and functionality. But if it can get back there, Apple will have a chance to make some inroads on Google's home turf.