Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Default Apps on iOS

Kirk McElhearn, Macworld:

Apple’s desktop and mobile operating systems provide a full suite of applications that allow you to do most of what you want without downloading any additional apps. You can browse the web, send and receive email, manage calendars and contacts, and much more, all with the stock apps included in macOS and iOS.

But on macOS, you have the choice to not use those apps. Say you want to use Microsoft Outlook instead of Apple Mail; you can make this change, and when you click a link to send an email, Outlook will open. Or if you want to use Chrome instead of Safari, the same thing will happen: URLs you click will open in Google’s browser.


But iOS offers no such option. If you tap a URL, it opens in Safari. If you tap a link to send an email, it opens in Mail. The default calendar is Apple’s Calendar app. And so on. You may not want to work that way and because Apple doesn’t give you any choice, you’re stuck with workarounds: using share sheets to open a web page in a different browser; copying an email link or address to create an email; and so on.

Federico Viticci:

I’ve argued in favor of third-party default apps many times in the past (see ‘Personalization’ here). Clearly, this isn’t a technical problem per se; I think Apple is more concerned about the strategic and security implications of default apps.

This clearly isn’t a technical limitation, but a conscious design decision. However, it is far more noticeable in iOS 10 than in previous versions of iOS because of the ability to hide default apps, which can leave gaps in typical interactions. Tapping on a mailto: link when Mail is hidden will display an inelegant modal dialog telling the user to reinstall Mail, even if they have a third-party Mail app installed. I’ve also come across the occasional instance where I couldn’t add an event to my iCloud calendar because Calendar wasn’t installed, though I’m not sure what circumstances precipitated this.

Gaps like these, by the way, and the recently-restored ability to lose entire text messages due to a mis-tap are worrying to me. These are problems that I have no doubt came up during testing internally — never mind by thousands of developers and public beta testers — and are either unaddressed or have a poor stopgap solution, as is the case for mailto: links. It’s these lingering and obvious issues that cause me greater concern for the state Apple software today than the ongoing failure of iTunes syncing or the seemingly slow pace of improvements to iCloud. If these relatively simple details can’t be worked out — or, in the case of the quick reply bug, are reintroduced after being fixed — it reduces my faith in Apple’s ability to improve their most substantial software products and fix larger and more complex problems.

Update: A few people have told me that the quick reply bug I mentioned above has been fixed in iOS 10.2, but the “fix” is pretty half-assed: if you accidentally tap outside of the keyboard, the reply context will still disappear, but the text will be preserved if you open Messages.

This doesn’t fix other apps, however; for example, invoking the reply action on a Tweetbot notification and tapping outside of the keyboard area will cause the reply context and the text to vanish into the ether.