Considering the App Store’s maturity I’m surprised how many new iOS apps like Pulse and Pocket Casts deviate significantly from Apple’s native visual style. Back in 2008 or 2009 such wide deviations and experiments were expected, yet today I’m downloading apps with solid functionality and design in a package that feels and looks like something Apple could have never designed; that?s a problem.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting developers that blindly copy the company’s aesthetic to automatically expect greatness. Originality of design and function, not to mention solid customer support and a well written code base are all critical factors behind app success. Nevertheless, the appeal of Apple?s native app look shouldn?t be underestimated: Remember a huge subset of iOS users spend most of their time buried deep within Apple’s native apps (e.g. Safari, Calendar, Mail, Messages), only occasionally branching off into other third-party apps. If a third-party app it just looks or feel too different from Apple?s approach, especially for novice users, it runs a risk of being ignored or eliminated. In addition, the bias of the Mac tech elite (e.g. John Gruber, Macworld) have toward more native Apple looking apps is significant; often it’s their recommendations that trickle down to other power users (e.g. yours truly) who in turn ultimately spread their influence to a wider, more casual audience.
I’d look to three app successes at least partially driven by an Apple friendly aesthetic: Tweetie, a Twitter client, Instacast, a podcast manager and streamer, and The Weather, a customizable weather app. Tweetie was arguably one of the first in a sea of early third party Twitter clients to gain major traction due to its gorgeous design, quick speed and having a look, as many reviewers noted, like something Apple would have developed. Fast forward a few years where Tweetie’s strong sales and high praise led to its purchase and rebranding as the official Twitter iOS client.
Instacast is another app with significant buzz and Apple-like design. The app has an uphill battle, as already several other podcast manager apps (e.g. Podcaster, Pocket Casts) were released earlier to remedy’s the native iTunes app’s poor podcast support. I’d argue though recently Instacast has pulled ahead of the pack due to the backing of tech writers like Shawn Blanc and Patrick Rhone. Instacast stands out from its competition by mirroring Apple’s design the closest; it’s graceful and minimal aesthetic certainly clicked for me, landing a spot on my iPhone’s home screen soon after I downloaded it.
Finally, though it doesn’t have the popularity of the other aforementioned apps, I’d also point to the The Weather as another success story. I’ve tried probably over thirty different apps as a replacement to Apple’s native Weather app, generally settling for years on the overly busy yet functional Weatherbug Elite. When I gave The Weather a try however, I was almost immediately hooked, and not because of speed or unique functionality; rather its slick grey on black look and simple iconography just felt like textbook Apple.