Third-party apps — a small rant

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In my (often very inaccurate) opinion, the current state of Android apps is pretty terrible. Specifically, I speak of independent developers making apps that connect to services from larger corporations. There is no way a single dev or a small dev team can match the resources of a massive company that can stick 400 people in a room to discuss the colour of a button.

It should come as no surprise then, that the official apps are far better than the ones by the independent devs. Except, they aren’t. Not even close. The third-party apps pretty much always blow the official ones into the middle of last week. The features, the snappiness, and the polish, are always miles ahead of their official counterparts. And there are a few very good reasons for that.

First-party apps are made by committees of people who couldn’t care less about the product if they tried. They get paid to come up with new ideas, with no emphasis on quality and functionality. This is why you see Google launching a new service every week, and simultaneously killing off two more. Tech teams in big companies aren’t composed of like-minded individuals that work well together, they are formed purely by looking at their professional achievements, by a manager who can’t match names to faces to save his life. Without making this into an anti-capitalist rant, all changes are geared toward bringing in more money and control over data, and not end-user experience.

Third-party apps on the other hand, are made by one person or a team that functions as one. The decision to work together is voluntary, so is the entire project. The devs are all users of the service, and they aren’t happy with the state of the official app. They decide to do something about it. It becomes a passion project.

I’ve used third-party alternatives the entire time I’ve owned smartphones. The reasons for this have evolved over the years. The earliest example I can remember was wrappers for Facebook as the official app was too heavy for my phone. Eventually, necessity turned to genuine appreciation as I realised these apps are built so much better than the official ones. Now, I actively seek out these alternatives to the popular ones. I use Flamingo for Twitter and Boost for Reddit, among others. Plus, the pro versions help fund these developers, and are usually cheap. Very rarely do you see predatory subscription models here.

So, where’s the but? Companies have woken up to the threat, and have started crippling independent developers. Whether through proprietary APIs or legal discourse, they have begun clamping down on these apps. “Vote with your wallet” is good advice, except they don’t have to make it impossible for you to use other means. They just have to make it inconvenient enough for the average user. After all, the whole point of apps is convenience.

I do hope the situation improves. For conglomerates, a few users boycotting their service is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. There is much more money to be made from the other 99%. It’s just how modern business works. Eliminate your competition, and the entire market is yours.



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