Review: Installer.app, Native App-a-Week

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Can’t wait any longer for Native Apps? Me neither. (Late) June seems too far away? I’m with you. So why wait, when you can jailbreak! Over the next couple months before 2.0 is released, I’ll give you guys a glimpse into the jailbroken world of native apps every week. If we don't find anything life-changing, hopefully we’ll learn a few things along the way. Plus: let's face it, Jailbreaking isn't going anywhere. The SDK is awesome, but some people won't settle for anything less than full-on access to all the hidden bits of the iPhone. Today, we start with another look at the ever-evolving program that is Installer.app. Developed by the guys at Nullriver, Installer.app is the first app you see after jailbreaking. Its main goal is to serve as an outlet for all the rest of the iPhone’s native apps and it has come a long way since we first showed you how to use it. Does it succeed? Is it effective? Can Apple learn something from Installer.app? Read on for the rest of the review! (and remember you'll need a Jailbroken iPhone to take advantage of this native app) One of the biggest arguments against the iPhone is the lack of native apps available for it. Because of the closed nature of the iPhone, many people argued that it can’t truly be considered a smartphone. To many, a smartphone isn’t a smartphone until you have apps that can make that phone, well, smarter. Which makes sense, why have a tool as powerful as the iPhone if you can’t really utilize it? That’s where jailbreaking steps in. After jailbreaking, the Installer.app is displayed on your Home Screen and with just one touch, your iPhone gets even smarter.

Purpose

In short, Installer.app is a program manager, software updater, and downloader in one piece of software. You download programs, install programs, update programs, and uninstall programs in a one-stop shop. It's like combining the best parts of Finder, iTunes, and VersionTracker into one. The embedded tabbed nature of the program allows one to fluidly jump from one task to another without any hiccups.

Design & Layout

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I’m a sucker for well-designed icons on my iPhone. It annoys me to no end when a site’s web clip is poorly constructed or even worse, non-existent. I know, we can design our own, but I would still much rather have those developers create a good-looking icon for me. Good icons = more clicking. Luckily, the Installer.app icon is a thing of beauty. With a Safari-esque blue, the icon looks very much a part of the Apple family. The layout of the program is simplistically and stylishly designed and creates a streamline look with the rest of the iPhone’s pre-installed programs (iPod, iTunes Store, etc). The folks at Nullriver did a great job in creating Installer to look as if Apple had created it themselves. From the spacing to the tab structure, Installer.app is as clean and easy to use as any program on the iPhone. In the latest iteration, the Installer.app opens with a list of Featured programs, similar to how the iTunes Wi-Fi store opens with Featured Songs. There is a black row of tabs, again taking obvious design cues from the iTunes Wi-Fi Store, that displays buttons for: Featured, Install, Update, Uninstall, and Sources.

Usage

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The whole user experience of Installer is very straightforward and extremely easy-to-use. Even for the unsavviest of iPhone owners, finding apps should be a cinch because of the great categorization of the apps. Clicking on the Install tab would provide categories that apps will be in such as:

  • Recent Packages
  • Games
  • Multimedia
  • Network
  • Productivity
  • System
  • Themes
  • Utilities
  • Wallpaper

..and many more. From my personal experience, carrier app stores like those in other phones are extremely cumbersome and slow, the Installer.app is quick to use, easy to learn, and very, very fluid. I have had no issues of crashing, freezing, or anything of that sort. From the looks of it, Installer.app is as stable as they come.

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Once you find a program that piques your interest, all it takes is one click and it’ll automatically download and install to your iPhone. Installer.app warns you if some programs are not from ‘trusted sources’, but from my experience, those prompts are not as serious as it sounds. Installer.app also provides short descriptions on native apps that give you a better idea on what the app offers.

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If you can’t find the program you want, you might have to add sources. I’ll provide you with a rough analogy to explain what that means, so bear with me here, if Installer.app was a Mall, Sources would be the stores that fill up that Mall, and Apps would be the items that make up that Store. All across the web there are great Sources that could be added to Installer.app which leads to many more native apps that can be downloaded to your iPhone.

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The great thing about sources is that you can personalize the Installer.app to consist of what you want it to consist of. Using the same analogy, Installer.app is your personal Mall for iPhone. Once you click on the Sources button, you can Add and Delete Sources for the Installer.app to check for their programs. Thus, if you find a few developers that make great programs, you can add them and if you find some developers you never download from, you can delete them. This personalization is very useful in keeping the junk away from your Installer.app and bringing the best programs to the forefront.

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Uninstalling is just as easy as Installing. You tap the Uninstall tab, and find the native app you don’t want anymore, and tap Uninstall on the screen.

Installer.app’s speed on Wi-Fi is expectedly, incredibly fast. Programs download in mere seconds and sources are updated just as fast. EDGE does well considering most native app sizes are measured in the KB’s, but you might want to stay away from larger sized files until you have a Wi-Fi connection.

Criticism

An annoyance I found in Installer.app is that once you have downloaded new programs and exit Installer, it’ll hesitate a little on your Home Screen and then bring you back to your unlock screen. This is probably because it has to re-set your Home Screen in order to load the new apps but it is an annoyance nonetheless. If Installer.app could ever figure out a way to integrate programs as seamlessly as web clips, who would even need an App Store!

Also, I found that like all the other iPhone programs pre-installed, the Installer.app has a definite need for integrated search. In the days of Google and Spotlight, search has re-defined the way we find things and open programs. With a search engine, it’d be much easier to more efficiently find programs than having to peruse the categories for that one single app.

Final Thoughts

When the App Store in 2.0 is released, it will already need to catch up to Installer.app because Installer.app is just that good. As if it was made from the folks from Cupertino themselves, the Installer.app’s design and user interface is streamline with the rest of the iPhone’s first-party applications.

I loved the ease of use and overall design, anyone who opens up Installer.app can more or less figure out how to work with it. I can’t imagine what the future App Store will look like because it's difficult to imagine it any different from what Installer.app already is.

Though the Installer.app has come a long way, adding features like search and finding a better solution in loading programs to your Home Screen are all issues that should be fixed in the next couple of iterations. Having just taken the first steps into the jailbreaking world, I am convinced that the Installer.app is a good enough reason to jump over. There are few apps as polished and even fewer that provide the type of user-interface the iPhone was created for.

Pros

  • Great User Interface
  • Streamline Design
  • Ability to Personalize Installer
  • Easy to Learn
  • Native Apps Galore!

Cons

  • Awkward Refresh of Home Screen After Installing Programs
  • Could Use a Search Feature

Overall: 4.9/5

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Reader comments

Review: Installer.app, Native App-a-Week

6 Comments

It's funny (strange and ha ha?) that I've had to have a jailbroken iPhone, yet I've never installed anything else. Installer.app is just sitting there...
Maybe Casey's new series will tempt me into finally using it?

Having the extra apps on the iPhone, make it the device I wanted, without these apps I would never have bought the thing.
I have ToDo2, Funiculous, Metronome, Chess, NES Emulator, TTR, Trism, Boss Prefs, Screen Capture, MPG, PhotoBoard, Snapture, iDope, Books.
These have made this the ultimate pocket toy. I can only hope that apple can come close to what the open source community has done so far.