Is default always best?
Most of you carry a smartphone in your pocket, and while we love the idea of a small (sorry Galaxy Note users), capable touch screen device, how many of us just put up with the woeful default applications?
Write once, and forget
As many of you know, I spend a lot of time testing new smartphones and tablets, whether it's WebOS, iOS, Windows Phone or Android (if you see me with a BBOS7 BlackBerry, shoot me on sight!), the default application selection never seems to be as polished as it could be. Take Android as the perfect example - many Android users have no idea that they can swap out the launcher, making their phone look, and work, completely differently - and, if you're lucky enough to be rocking an Ice Cream Sandwich device (not a real one, we're talking about Googles funny naming scheme), I wonder if you even know about Chrome for Android for a much much better browsing experience?
Now, most of you know that I am an Apple junkie through and through, and some days I think I should apologise for that, but that's not the point right now, rather, I have to say that I think iOS is likely the worst offender when it comes to a poor default application selection.
The iPhone is everywhere, as is the iPad, but few actually venture into replacing the stock applications with anything, instead opting to use the AppStore as a portal to Angry Birds and Instagram. I will admit, I love the stock layout on iOS, and to a degree the layout of Android (4.0), and please, don't get me started of the beauty of the Metro UI of Windows Phone 7.5 - but layout is one thing, the usability of apps is another problem altogether.
I just get the impression that these companies write the stock applications at the design stage of the device, and then sort of abandon them to languish update after update, with only the very minor of enhancement if it seems that demand is deafening.
My own changes
I have loved every part of my iPhone and iPad since I first held one, but I do have these hang ups that just bum me out. On the iPhone the chief bug-bear was Mail - okay, in 2007, it was great, sure it didn't do exchange or have the fancy business security features, but it was simple and workable. Okay, Apple have added features over time, but the overall feel is the same, and I have to say that after five years, this application needs a massive redesign!
Nearly two months ago, my favourite Mac application launched on the iPhone: Sparrow.
Sparrow helped me give up on my "the stock apps are fine" mentality and really open up to some other possibilities. Now, Apple have seriously knee-capped Sparrow on the iPhone, with them not being able to provide push notifications, or being able to have it respond to 'mailto' links, but even with those limitations (they're working on push as we speak), I have to say that it is everything I wanted Apples Mail application to be by now.
I'm not going to wax lyrical about Sparrow here, but I will say that if you've an iPhone and want to try something different, Sparrow is fantastic.
Not just the productivity apps
I always hated the design of the Music application on the iPad, maybe you love it, I don't know, but what I do know is that Microsofts Metro UI has always felt more polished and smooth when it comes to content consumption, the user interface is so much more considered. It just doesn't feel like your content is alien inside of the rigid lines of Apples UI.
Today, a new application launched for the iPad that, in my opinion, feels so much more complete than the stock application. Now, I realise that some of you out there are Metro haters, and I get that, but I love it, and I fell in love with the slick, smooth operation of Track 8.
Track 8 is a Metro UI-esque, stock music app replacement, and after half an hour of playing around with it, I finally swapped out my first dock app. A bold move, yes, and it's not perfect, no AirPlay, or playlist generation, but those will come with time. Right now, it says to me that my content is what is important, the user interface gives way to that.
Look, maybe you've never felt the way I have about the default applications on your phone or tablet, and that's great - seriously, I am a firm believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and the suggestions in this rant/post aren't for everyone. Tell you what, tweet me, Facebook or just comment below - let me know what you like about the stock apps on your phone, or, let me know your suggestions for third party replacements.