Over the past few months, I've noticed a trend emerging in my daily app consumption and workflow: as the App Store gets populated by thousands of new applications every day and developers struggle to get noticed in the sea of iPhone and iPad releases and "promotions", I increasingly tend to rely on "a trusted system", rather than constantly tweaking my home screen or dock to accommodate new apps from "indie devs" to try out, and perhaps replace with something else entirely the week after.
More than a trend, people who know me well might argue that I have a problem: I switch between apps less, and thus I am becoming that kind of guy that doesn't care about what's new in spite of my professed interest for innovation and good software.
But that's my point exactly, and there's an important difference between caring about new apps and trusting only a few selected ones for my work that I'd like to point out in this article.
Why should I buy the latest to-do app for iPhone or the next RSS reader for the iPad? Why should I constantly tweak and fiddle when the trusted system I've built is serving me so well? Some people, including me, are big advocates of App Store discovery and innovation: you never know what hidden gem the Productivity category might hide beneath hundreds of "wallpaper customizers", and therefore it is an app lover's job to navigate the App Store with the sole purpose of discovery in mind. With half a million apps to choose from, those who set out to explore the intricate App Store maze are the Magellans of the digital distribution era. Yet, I believe app discovery should be the reason behind good information and curiosity, not the ultimate goal towards getting things done or simply enjoying iOS devices.
We, as geeks, want to be -- or at least "feel" -- productive with our iPhones and iPads. Whereas we look at "the average user" and justify our expenses saying that unlike those people, we actually do stuff with Apple devices, the other end of the spectrum is equally true in my opinion, but we often don't see it: all kinds of people ("the users") are now serious about iOS, and whilst for some buying an iPhone will always be related to the status symbol, more customers than we, as geeks, usually think of are starting to look at iPhones and iPads as productivity platforms. It's not just for the nerds or the fashion victims anymore. And as people get serious about iOS, they develop the "trusted system awareness" in that they start looking for apps to rely on without hesitation on a daily basis.
For me, the trusted system has become a synonym of great software developed by people that are serious about the bits and Xcodes they work with. Software from people that have something to lose if things go south. Apps from developers that are deeply invested in the platform -- apps from people that often do this for a living but that are also users of their own creations. And this synonym has led me to trust the smaller, indie devs less, because I always fear the app I'm showing interest in will be discontinued tomorrow and never come back to support my needs.
It's not like this hasn't happened before. Too many times I've decided to fit an app in my workflow, only to find out months later the developer had no willingness whatsoever to maintain it or at least come clean and say "look, it was just an experiment". And I can understand that point of view, really. I'm not saying garage developers and seven year-olds shouldn't take their first steps in iOS development and see what's like to gain popularity in the App Store. Not at all. I'm looking at us, the users who are serious about iOS, and deconstructing the difference between being curious, which is legitimate, and not getting anything done because of the constant tweaking, which is poisonous.
We need to separate work from leisure and app discovery. If we're really committed to proving that iOS devices can be fantastic replacements for trucks, we need to get serious and understand that switching between apps and feverishly mining for the latest productivity goldmine won't make you smarter or "more productive". On the other hand, developers need to understand that just because they've released a new Google Reader client or GTD app, they shouldn't expect thousands of users to jump on board and hit Buy.
iOS users have come to the point where the trusted system is more important. They know what developers and "names" to follow in the long term, and they're happier when said developers provide an ecosystem for their apps that will make spending money on three different platforms less painful.
From personal experience, I see myself "trusting" people like The Omni Group, Evernote, The Iconfactory, Agile Bits, Edovia, Smile, Acrylic Apps or Tapbots more and more every day. I know I can get actual work done by using their apps, I know I can look forward to great customer support and shoot them a tweet when I've got a question -- I can spend $50 bucks knowing that the work and enjoyment I'll get in return will be greater.
But that's not to say I've stopped giving the benefit of the doubt to "new kids on the block", or that I've given up on trying to find the hidden gems in the App Store caves. Those who read this site know that I've started using Mr. Reader and Grazing Browser on my iPad and iPhone -- apps from two relatively less-known developers that, however, have showed outstanding support, commitment to their software and a steady flow of software updates in the past weeks. To me, these seem like people who are serious about what they do. And I'm willing to trust them even if they haven't been around for 10 years like others in this industry. More apps like Prowl, Notesy and Notely also come to mind.
iOS devices are now playing an important role in our lives, and we shouldn't stop exploring all the ways to make them better with new apps, and different workflows. But I believe no one can blame us for choosing the trusted system when it's time to work, and stop tinkering.