Anatomy Of A Great iOS App

(Originally posted 2019-01-06.)

This post isn’t about what a great iOS app would functionally do. It’s about what would turn a useful app into a great one.

There are obvious personal biases here:

  • Automation is important to me.
  • I have most of the Apple ecosystem – but no HomePod speakers (yet).
  • I really want good quality apps – and I am willing and able to pay for them.

So these thoughts are obviously coloured by these biases.

I’d like to spark discussion among power users. For the rest of us some insight into what the best iOS apps do might prove useful.

I’ve divided the features into three categories:

  • Good
  • Better
  • Best

I wouldn’t take these categories too seriously. They are in fact varying degrees of “stretch objective”.

Finally all of these items are feasible – as multiple apps have already done them – but some might not be relevant for a given app1.

Good

  • iCloud syncing – so data can be shared between devices.
  • URL support that is deep enough to reach specific bits of the application – so sophisticated automation can be built.
  • iPad Split Screen / Slideover support – to make it pleasant to use alongside other apps.
  • Siri Shortcuts support that is meaningful – again for automation, but also for voice control.

Better

  • Files access – so I can get at the app’s data from multiple apps.
  • Dropbox access – which speaks for itself.
  • x-callback-url support – for calls from one app to another. (Really sophisticated automation has been built this way.)
  • Programmatic automation support – whether Javascript or Python.
  • Well-chosen Siri Shortcuts support – as opposed to basic.
  • Cross-platform syncing – so I can start on e.g. an iPhone and finish on a Mac.

Best

  • Box access – less prevalent a need than DropBox.
  • TextExpander support – which can save a lot of typing and ensure consistency.
  • Workflow constructors via e.g. Drag and Drop
  • Drag and Drop support – which frankly I haven’t really got into.

And Another Thing

Everything so far has been about the app itself. But there’s more to it than just what the code does.

I’ve been fortunate to be involved with lots of apps where I get to beta – through TestFlight. So I’m conscious of developers’ attitudes. I like to see a number of things:

  • Frequent updates, even if small. Even if only to correct issues or support new hardware / software.
  • Beta testing through TestFlight.
  • Creative licencing schemes.
  • A vibrant user community.

If you’ve read this far you’re probably part of a vibrant user community anyway. 🙂

And as I finish this post I realise this is a bit of a follow on to Day One Support; Who Needs It?.

Anyhow, I’m interested in what others think turns a good app into a great one – at least from the perspective I’ve shown in this post.

(This post was written in Drafts on iOS and this sentenceparagraph added using the (in beta) counterpart on Mac OS, and the HTML created in Sublime Text. At least one of the attributes of this post thus demonstrated: iCloud Syncing between Drafts versions.)


  1. There is no accounting for ingenuity so some of these that don’t seem useful to me might be just what somebody else really wants. 

Published by Martin Packer

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One thought on “Anatomy Of A Great iOS App

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