App Sore Beginnings and Apple Watch

With Apple’s release of a new application platform, Apple Watch, I thought I’d take a look at some of the first applications I downloaded in the App Store when it launched in July 2008. The App Store truly was a revolution, but it didn’t start out so smooth. Many of the first applications are no longer being developed and a lot of them missed the mark out of the gate. It took a while before we started seeing software that would stand the test of time and really make our iPhones feel like a necessity.

The first five applications I downloaded from the App Store are:

  • ShoppingList: an application that allowed you to create shopping lists (obviously). The app was last updated in November 2013 and wasn’t installed on my iPhone for very long. I only ever remember using it once and it was worse than simply using the built-in Notes app.
  • Super Monkey Ball: A really neat game where you tilt your device to roll a monkey around the stage. The goal is to collect as many bananas as you can and make it to the finish line without falling off the platform. This app was last updated in June 2009, but Sega has since released a couple of sequels. There weren’t too many games available when the App Store launched and this one lived on my iPhone for quite a while because of that. I remember it being a fun, yet occasionally frustrating game (because of difficult levels, not poor game design).
  • Pandora Radio: The first application I downloaded on the App Store that I still have installed on my current iPhone. I don’t use it too often anymore, though. My music collection has grown to the point where I typically have everything I want to listen to downloaded on my device, so there’s rarely a need for streaming. Pandora has basically been relegated to playing Christmas music or the genres I don’t listen to frequently in order to accommodate friends and family who don’t share my musical taste.
  • Mobile Fotos • Flickr Browser & Uploader: This was back when I actually used Flickr, now I use Twitter and iCloud photo streams to share my photos. I was surprised to see that this app was updated relatively recently, October 2014. But given that there’s only three reviews of the current version, two of which are negative, it doesn’t appear to have a healthy user base.
  • WeatherBug – Weather Forecasts & Alerts: An app that’s still around and being actively developed, with a solid user base. But, I didn’t use it for very long. I distinctly remember going back to Weather Underground’s web app shortly after trying out WeatherBug. It just never appealed to me and I haven’t gone back to it since.

Of the first five applications I downloaded from the App Store, only one of them has lasted the nearly seven years that the App Store has been in existence. But what’s even more telling is that if you expand out to the first 150 applications I downloaded, you’ll only find four more apps that are still installed on my iPhone — Remote, Yelp, Deliveries, and Instapaper— only two of which I use regularly.

Remote, Apple’s iTunes and Apple TV controller app, is something I only launch once every month or two. It gets lauded as this amazing application, but I find it to be a bit fiddly. You always have to choose your device when you launch it (instead of it defaulting to your most recent choice) which takes a little longer than I’d like. I basically only use it when I need to type long strings into a search field on the Apple TV. And, that’s still not really a great experience. I’ve been plagued with a bug where I’ll type a word or two and suddenly it’s replicated two or three times over and I have to delete the entire query and retype it (but, that’s a whole different story).

Yelp is an application that lives on my phone simply for the convenience of it. But, I really only use it during the two or three times a year when I’m in an unfamiliar town and need to find a restaurant to eat at. There’s other services like it, but Yelp’s been my default for nearly seven years, now.

Deliveries is still one of my favorite applications on the iPhone. It’s so simple and easy to use and I typically have a package that I’m tracking at least once or twice a month. The app has been removed from my phone a time or two, when I wasn’t buying much online, but with my recent Amazon Prime subscription I can’t imagine uninstalling Deliveries unkess another app in the same category comes along that knocks it out of the park.

Instapaper is an app that I use almost every day. Deliveries is great, but Instapaper was really the first incredible application that changed the way I precessed news. There’ve been many services that have cropped up offering similar features, but I’ve always stuck with Instapaper. The app launched the day after the App Store did, but I didn’t start using it for several months after it was released. I think that even if there’s a great application available on a new platform it takes users a while to really understand it and to start appreciating how good it really is.

But, many developers didn’t understand what applications would work well on a mobile device like this at first. There’s plenty of junky apps that have since been abandoned in that initial 150 that I downloaded. Over time, though, the quality of the applications released went up and the likelihood that a new application would stick improved.

One things that’s important to remember is that developers could actually test their software on real devices before the App Store launched — a luxury that developers of today did not have when they were building for the Apple Watch. Not to mention the fact that there was years of development on applications targeted for similarly sized devices (Windows Mobile, Palm OS, and Blackberry). And while that likely didn’t have a giant impact on developers building for iOS, it certainly must have played a role on some level.

Developers will eventually have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t on the Apple Watch. It’s just a matter of giving them enough time with the tools and hardware to grok the things that aren’t immediately obvious. Over time the glances and interactive notifications developed for the Watch will improve. And when the full SDK is released, third-party developers will begin to have an opportunity to truly define what the Apple Watch is good for. Until then, it’s a waiting game.

I remember shortly after I bought the iPhone, I was having dinner with my family (at Chili’s if you must know, it wasn’t very good) and I was asked by my sister why I needed an iPhone. I didn’t have a great answer. I came up with some reasons, though, like how I alway’s carried an iPod and my cell phone with me everywhere I went and now I only needed to bring one device with me.

The truth is though, I bought an iPhone because I wanted one, not because I needed it. And I think that was the same reason everyone bought an iPhone during that first generation. It wasn’t until the following year — when the App Store was released and software developers had time to build for it — that anyone really felt the need to buy an iPhone.

Now, every single person that was sitting with me at Chili’s that night owns an iPhone. But, none of them would have been interested in it if not for third party developers building software that they felt compelled to use. And software that good takes time.

The Apple Watch might not seem like a must-have device to people who get hung up on whether or not they need something like it in their lives. But all of us early adopters that see what platforms like this can be in the future — who are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on devices that we want to own — we know that once developers have enough time to build for the platform, there will be a lot more people feeling that they need to own one.

It might be hard to see in hindsight, but there are millions of iPhone owners who didn’t understand why anyone would need to spend $200+ on a cell phone, until they “needed” to themselves. And, in time, I think the same will be true of the Apple Watch.