Third-party iPhone applications: Take one.

So it has begun, the next-generation in mobile computing.  Did you miss it?  On Friday, officially, Apple released its updates for both iTunes and the iPhone making it possible for those who owned iPhones, or who purchased the brand-new iPhone 3G on Friday, to install 3rd party applications on the iPhone.

The most notable take-away from this first weekend of my using third-party applications on my iPhone is how very different the applications I’ve downloaded from the store feel from the applications I’ve been using for over a year.  It is something I didn’t think about as I was anticipating the release of this update.  Nearly all of the iPhone applications that are currently available are, in my opinion, beta-level 1.0 applications.  Add to it that they’ve not been built by Apple, and we’re talking about a lot of poorly designed applications.

This isn’t to say that the applications that were release on day-one aren’t valuable, good applications to have, worth the money they’re asking for, or even that they’re bad applications in any sense.  It is just that they don’t feel nearly as refined as the applications that Apple has released themselves.

Some of the most glaring examples of this are Facebook’s application, Connected Flow’s Exposure, and the Mobile AIM (this is an iTunes link) client by AOL.

First, Facebook’s iPhone application, while built natively for the iPhone – is not nearly as refined or aesthetically pleasing as their Web application for the iPhone. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great application, and I think it works well.  But at the moment I prefer their Web app.


Second, Connected Flow’s Exposure application, the one I linked to the other day, is a pretty good way to browse through Flickr.  If I had to guess at the UI of this application prior to launch I would have been dead wrong.  The application feels very much like the Contact app on the iPhone.  Click a menu item, slide to the right, see that information, then slide back.  But, clicking on the photo and clicking on the arrow give you two different information panes.  One is the photo, full-screen, another is the photo’s metadata (ie. number of views, comments, tags, etc.).  I think all of this information should be on the same panel, inline, and the ability to leave a comment on a photo should not be 3 or 4 clicks into the application.  I think this application should look like the iPhone’s built-in photo browser, with added metadata on touch.  But it isn’t.  It went a completely different direction than I would have assumed. It isn’t all bad, Exposure is free!

Mobile AIM

Last, at least in this post, is the Mobile AIM client. This application feels like someone built it that never built for the Macintosh before – but they tried really hard and nearly pulled it off.  Some of the UIs largest faults is that there is no way to sign out from the application unless you go into your iPhone’s settings panel first, there is no way to close an IM "tab" without first clicking edit on the active IMs list and then clicking the minus button, and that Mobile AIM does not use your iPhone’s contacts.  There are many, many things wrong with this application but the fact that it works and you can be on AIM anywhere in the world makes this one a must-have-installed application.

Let me be clear, I’ve chosen these applications not because they are the worst user interfaces, but because they are among some of the better ones.  These are some of the applications that I think are going to dramatically improve over time.  I think most iPhone application UIs will improve overtime, just as some of our favorite applications on the Macintosh have.  I think more applications will be released that are better than these and as they do, everyone will benefit from the competition.

Kudos to all of the developers that locked themselves in their closets and tried their best to provide good, stable applications for the launch of the App Store.  And I’m looking forward to the future versions of your applications.

Now, if I could just find time to go through the hundreds of applications in the App Store.

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