The Case for Using Third Party Apps

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 4 min read

This pairs well with the companion piece, The Value of Using Stock Apps.

Your iPhone comes with a collection of perfectly capable apps for things like task reminders, maps, and notes, so why not use them? They’re free, after all! But I use very few of them, and below I’ll try to explain what the benefits are, as well as what apps I’m using in place of the stock apps (it’s a long list…).

1. Data portability

If I choose to use Apple Reminders for my task tracking, then I’m limiting myself to (a) only using Apple devices, and (b) only using Apple devices that are logged into my Apple ID. Oh, and if Apple does something tomorrow that makes me no longer want to support them, I can’t move to Android or Windows because there is no real option to use Reminders there.

And would you like to export those reminders or those notes to a new service? No such luck, you either manually move them over or you just throw them out and start over. that may be fine if you don’t use them too much, but if you’re a major Notes user, you may not take so kindly to losing everything. It’s not always as simple as “click-and-move” to other services, but often there are tools to move between the major apps.

2. Multi-platform

I mentioned this above, but it warrants its own point. If I’m all in on Apple platforms and use my Apple ID on all of them, then stock apps can be good, but if you venture even an inch out of line then it all falls apart.

As a basic example, I use Things for task management. This is an iOS/Mac-only app, but I use it on my personal devices and my work Mac and they stay perfectly in sync. My work Mac is signed into my work iCloud account, so there is no way for my to sync Reminders from my personal iPhone to my work Mac. For some this is fine, but for me this is a deal-breaker.

Similarly, I have a Windows PC at home (as do a large majority of iPhone users), so having apps that let me work on things on my iPhone and then pick them up seamlessly on my computer are wonderful!

3. New features faster

I mentioned in the other article that getting system features is more reliably going to happen in stock apps, but these features come to the better third party apps pretty damn quickly. Not only that, if an app I use doesn’t have a feature I want, then I can contact the devs and they may add it in a minor update soon. If it’s something I want a stock app to do, I really need to wait for next year’s iOS update to get anything meaningful.

Also, Apple’s stock apps are more conservative with adding new features that the market as a whole finds important. I may wait years to get Apple Mail to do something (see snoozing emails) that every other app in existence has agreed is useful for years. Clip sharing in Castro and Overcast is a dealbreaker for me with podcast apps right now. How long do we think until Apple adopts this in Podcasts?

4. Flexibility

If Apple does something with Podcasts that I don’t like, then I can move to Castro. If Castro updates and changes something I don’t like, I can move to Overcast. Looking at RSS, I can use a back end syncing service and then use whatever app front end I want with it. If Reeder starts to suck, well then I can install Unread, log in with my Inoreader account, and boom, I’m up and running with my same feeds in no time.

I also don’t have to value the same things as Apple in what apps I choose to use. If Reminders doesn’t work with my mental model for task management, then I can choose from the several apps out there that line up for me.

5. It’s Fun

Let’s be totally frank about it, finding new apps that help you do new things is tons of fun! Now, I’m not saying you should change out your apps ever few weeks or anything, but the beauty of the app market is that companies are working hard to outdo each other and make better experiences for all of us. Apple is great at a lot of things, but they’re just not the best at everything, and they’re rarely the most innovative options on the market.

Some Third Party Apps I Use Over the Stock Options

  • Darkroom/Affinity Photo/Lightroom over Photos editing because I want more power than Photos allows me. Lightroom is also cross-platform so I can shoot on one device and edit elsewhere.
  • Spark over Mail because I want to snooze emails and Mail has major issues in syncing and sending timely notifications. I also archive most emails, and Spark makes it quicker to swipe them away.
  • Reeder over Apple News for RSS because Apple News up and killed the ability to even add RSS feeds in the first place (and it was never good for non-Apple News content, anyway).
  • Nike Run Club over Workouts for running because I like the mid-workout audio updates and again, an online sync that works on non-Apple devices.
  • Things over Reminders because Reminders is straight up not built for my needs. Not even close…
  • Castro over Podcasts because I want to share clips, want better speed controls, far prefer the UI, and want to be able to share clips on social media.
  • Audible over Books because the prices are better and the library is more expansive.
  • LumaFusion over iMovie because iMovie is not even close to powerful enough to do what I need with videos.
  • Ferrite over Garageband because, again, I need more than Garageband offers, and Ferrite’s Apple Pencil support is amazing.
  • Dark Sky over Weather because I like to see a radar, so I hope this acquisition means the stock app will gain a radar before the third party app stops working.
  • Pocket over Reading List because I want to save from all devices, I want things reliably made available offline, I don’t use Safari on the desktop, and it’s hooked up to Zapier for Birch Bark newsletter reasons.
  • Fantastical over Calendar because I prefer the UI.
  • Sleep Cycle over…uh, Bedtime, I guess because I like the smart alarm system.