Regarding built-in iOS apps being split out into the App Store

The idea of Apple unbundling the built-in apps so they can be split out and updated at any time via the App Store is an old one. There are some merits to the idea but also some drawbacks. In theory, it would allow for bugs to be fixed and features to be rolled out faster than operating system updates would otherwise allow. In practice, it's much more complicated. That's why it's one of those things everyone suggests, but few go further than the suggestion. So let's go further.

Google vs. Apple

One of the reasons people suggest Apple should unbundle the built-in apps is because Google has already done that on Android. iOS and Android, however, are very different systems.

For Google, as a modular operating system provider, it makes a lot of sense. By putting apps into the Play Store, Google can push them whenever it wants or needs to. Not so with operating system updates. Google can make those whenever they want but they often as not grow old and die waiting for manufacturers and carriers to implement and release them.

Apple doesn't have that problem. Apple is integrated device provider. There are no manufacturers to deal with, and Apple removed even the carriers as roadblocks long ago. As a result, Apple can update iOS any time they like, as often as they like. Theoretically, they could do it as often as Google could push a Play Store app update.

App vs. system

It goes deeper than that, though. A lot of what Apple does with apps occurs at the system level. That's what makes iOS so efficient. It also means that what can look like an app bug or app feature is really something at the system level.

Take the recent Messages bug that, when encountering a set of Arabic characters, crashed the system. It was a result of Unicode parsing, which meant it also affected notifications and a few App Store apps, and to properly fix it required an update at the system level.

That holds true for anything use core or foundational frameworks or system-level application programming interfaces (API).

Theoretically, Apple could modularize and package up code unique to each app, so each one could stand alone with few if any system dependencies. But that would significantly increase complexity and introduce severe redundancy and bloat. Bugs would have to be fixed and features introduced one at a time, even if wide applicable. In other words, it would make iOS worse.

App vs. cloud

Increasingly, many of the features found in apps aren't local to the device but live in the cloud. Siri, iTunes Match, Apple Music, Maps, App Store, iTunes Store, iBooks... the list goes on and on. All of these apps already receive server-side updates whenever the need arises.

There's no need to download and install an operating system or even an app binary because it's all handled behind the scenes. Siri and Maps especially have received near-constant updates over the last few years. No unbundling needed.

This is also why those currently experiencing bugs with Apple Music wouldn't benefit from the Music app being in the App Store. It's the service that needs to be fixed, not just the binary.

The unbundled person-hour myth

It might seem that unbundling apps would lead to better and more frequent updates, but the two have nothing to do with each other. In fact, when apps are unbundled, and no longer tied to high-priority projects like system software updates, they can languish on the App Store without significant updates for months or years. Apple Remote was a famous example of this.

There are only so many engineers to go around, and whether an app is bundled or not doesn't change the number of engineers who how fast they can work.

The new Music app didn't wait on iOS 8.4. iOS 8.4 was for the new Music app and the Apple Music services that came with it. Transit in Apple Maps isn't waiting on iOS 9. iOS 9 is when Transit will be beta tested and ready for limited release.

They're co-dependant. By pushing app updates as part of operating system updates, Apple knows everyone who has the new app also has the new operating system that supports it, and vice versa. And if an app required an OS update for it to be installed, there's little advantage to it being unbundled anyway.

Podcasts, while it was still on the App Store, was updated 16 times. During the same period, iOS was updated 20 times. iBooks, while still on the App Store, was updated 24 times. iOS, 40 times. So, even if Calculator and Stocks were moved to the App Store, it's tough to believe they'd get updated any more frequently than they do now.

The truth is, apps being bundled or unbundled doesn't make updates any slower or faster. Apple is in sole control of the company's update pace. They've pushed out urgent updates in days when they've needed to, and gone months without an update when they didn't need to.

The user experience myth

There's some belief that if built-in apps moved the App Store they'd be easier and more convenient to update. On the Mac, for example, system updates are handled by the Mac App Store, as are Safari updates.

For consistency reasons alone it could be valuable to have software update handled by both System Preferences and Setting, or Mac App Store and iOS App Store. That aside, there's little advantage either. Updates that involve core system features would still require restarts, and updates that languish in Settings could still language in App Store or vice versa.

The unbundled advantage

There are a few advantages to unbundling. If designers decide to move a button around on screen, and they're using UIKit instead of WebKit to render it, an App Store update could get it done without having to wait for an iOS update.

Likewise, if a crash bug is caused entirely by an error in local code, with no server side solution possible, and somehow wasn't detected and fixed in any of the beta releases, it could also be fixed faster via an App Store update.

But those kinds of things don't happen. Apple designers don't move buttons around at random and the last few times there have been major bugs in an iOS release they've been related to wireless connectivity or other system-level features that would—wait for it—require an iOS update anyway. (Which Apple has delivered, quickly.)

The bottom line

I like the idea of moving built-in apps to the App Store, which is why I've been one of the people talking about it for years. But the more I learn about why the system is the way it is, the more I realize ideas are much, much easier than implementations.

iOS isn't Android, so the iPhone and iPad wouldn't get the same advantages Google gets by moving core apps to the Play Store. And what advantages there are need to be weighed against the complexities and inefficiencies the transition would introduce.

Apple might one day make that move—though they haven't done it on OS X either—or they may continue to evolve apps to the point where features are completely unbound from binaries.

The truth is, Apple doesn't need to do anything other than provide important updates in as timely a manner as possible, and that's completely unbound from built-in or App Store details.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • The issue to me is that more and more apps are getting bundled. That folder with apps I am not using but can't delete is growing. There is no benefit for me to get the podcast, stock, tips, Apple watch and voice memo apps. I never use them, and some I have replaced with superior apps. To me all of the benefit of having them preloaded is on Apples side.
  • Hiding or deleting apps is problematic because even smart people forget they've deleted or hidden the app and then think their device is broken and mail me :)
  • Then those people just weren't as smart as they thought they were.
  • Well if they didn't bundle them people would know that they should look for them in the App Store. Are people mailing you about non bundled apps they deleted and forgot about?
  • Those two modalities are different in kind.
  • Sucks to be an idiot then. Posted via the iMore App on my iPad Air or iPod Touch 5
  • iOS has a beautiful feature to search anything including an installed app which is spotlight search. Why couldn't they use them. And if they are so novice as to not aware of this feature then they wouldn't even risk deleting or restructuring them.
  • I am sorry Rene, but I don't buy that argument. If they can't recall that they hid an app then they certainly are not smart enough to use the phone. In Android (and Apple can continue to copy from them) they you can see what is disabled easily and if you are talking about a "built in" Apple app then they should know, hey I don't use it so it must be hidden. They could put it in settings, similar to how notifications are turned off, just hide the app and when you can't find it you look in settings.
  • I'm not sure that's the primary reason that people want the apps to be de-bundled from the iOS and moved to the App Store. The common reason is people want to uninstall the default apps they don't use and use different apps as the default apps instead. By moving it to the App Store, it can be installed optionally rather than bundled into the OS and non-removable. They're assuming that Apple isn't making this possible because it is bundled with iOS but the reality is, it isn't the reason, it is entirely possible for Apple to do this. Apple is choosing to not allow people to uninstall these apps (frameworks can be left behind for other apps to use) but the some of the same reasons you gave in this article explains why Apple doesn't want to do this, they want complete control in many areas to lock you into their own ecosystem.
  • And just as iBooks and podcasts became bundled in iOS 8 we will get find my friends and find iphone apps in iOS 9 that we will not be able to remove.
  • Hide them in a folder, it's the best solution for everyone.
  • Eh not really. That is what you like to call "bloat on android devices"
  • No, bloat is anything put on by someone other than the OS maker. Learn your bloat...
  • Where did you find that definition? Sent from the iMore App
  • @cardfan
    lolwut?! That's utter nonsense. Bloatware = pre-installed apps you don't use. Who put it there doesn't make a difference.
  • That's a rather poor definition.
  • Ha I guess that's what it comes to from the apple side anymore. Yet they called google apps bloat. Your definition is way off... Sent from the iMore App
  • This isn't rocket science. Google defines Android. MS defines windows. And apple defines iOS. For example, if I buy a dell pc with a bunch of dell crap installed on it, it's bloat. If MS decides to put a modern OS and UI with it and call it windows 8, it's NOT bloat. They define what windows IS. Same with android and google. If google wants to integrate a 100 google apps with android then THAT is android. If Samsung or another OEM wants to fork it, add to it, or install their own stuff, then that is bloat. Apple devices have no bloat. There are no OEM's. And Apple didn't let carriers have their way. Hopefully this clears things up. Thanks for playing.
  • No, the best solution for the users is them not to be bundled. The best for Apple however is to bundle it. Something is wrong when Samsung is reducing the bloat and Apple is increasing it.
  • Hidden bloat is still bloat.... that, and Apple folders are fugly. At least give us a selection of folder icons, not a dumb transparent box with a messy grid in it.
  • Even if you hide something in a folder, it may still run in the background or use up system resources and of course take up precious storage space (which could possibly prevent things like updating to a new version of iOS on a 16 GB iOS device).
  • But you said hiding apps is problematic even for smart people. Because they forget they have them. Sent from the iMore App
  • That's not the solution as they sit on my phone using up memory The solution is to not bundle apps or at least let them be removed and if we do want them again they're on the App Store Sent from the iMore App
  • Really Rene, hide them in a folder, is this the best answer. Next it will be hide the unwanted food under your mashed potatoes. That is a really sad answer.
  • Apple is the biggest control freak on the planet, it's a walled garden for a reason. They say they know best for us and I disagree. Just because I use iOS devices doesn't mean I am conceding that Apple knows best for me. I will be getting the 6S Plus and I have no doubt I will get bored and frustrated with it after a few months and switch to an Android phone, but this time I will keep my 6S Plus and simply trade off when I get annoyed or bored. It's not the phone, or the OS that makes me bored, its the lack of features and customization that I want. Why can't I get freedom to change MORE than my wallpaper, wow, that's it the wallpaper. Android I can change icons, wallpaper, lauchers, set the home button to activate any app including a competing Voice control. I constantly find SIRI to be useless for key tasks daily. I would like to program the button to use Google Now, so I keep the app on the homescreen. I asked SIRI to look up the phone # of XYZ company, what do I get listings for Wikipedia and non relevant information. I use Google Now to do the same task I get the companies information, tap to dial, etc . Which is more intuitive.
  • System updates take a long time to apply, while a simple app update would take a few minutes. Plus every time a system update is done, there is always a chance of bricking or the introduction of a slew of new problems. I love how Apple fans try to justify the Apple way for the fact that's how Apple does it.
  • I think he just explained it's not just a simple app update given how Apple integrates everything.
  • Right, also system updates can be lightning fast. Apple totally controls iOS, they can do any kind of update they want. If something doesn't touch a core system layer that needs to be shut down before it's updated, you probably wouldn't even have to reboot. (Theoretically.)
  • Great article! I agree completely! Sent from the iMore App
  • I do like the nearly clean slate of a cyanogen mod install, but it's tough to go with no Apple or Google apps, try as I might.
  • I'm surprised you didn't mention Apple having to make a way for users to choose default apps if they allowed apps to be unbundled (think Safari). It sounds simple but as you said there are a lot of deep system hooks that the default apps use. It could be done but it's just another thing to think about that they'd have to implement before unbundling the default apps.
  • Safari is one thing, but that is not true for most of the bundled apps.
  • It most certainly is true. Almost all, if not all, have Siri hooks or are integrated in the UI (Control Center) which would all have to be redirected to another default app if the Apple apps were unbundled. Email
    Wallet (passbook)
    Phone In fact, Videos and iBooks are the only ones that I don't think need to be bundled in iOS 8.x. In iOS 9 iBooks is where audiobooks are and that Siri will also be able to access. It'll be down to videos which Siri doesn't seem to have access in the public betas.
  • First of all, there are certain apps that just make sense to have built into the system. PIM Apps and things like Camera, Maps, Wallet, and Phone just make sense to be there. The reasons are plainly obvious. If Apple had the proper API surface, however, any app in those categories (i.e. Outlook instead of Apple Mail) could theoretically make their data available to Siri for doing what she does with the stock Apps. This is possible on Android, for example. If you have OneNote installed and tell Google Now to make a note, it can use OneNote to create the note instead of Google Keep. That being said, Siri does not need a Weather, Stocks, Calculator, app on the device to get that information, and frankly getting it from a Search Engine is likely more reliable than getting it from an app since the Search Engine will always be up to date. Other types of data can be gotten directly from sources like Wolfram Alpha without the need to have a dedicated app installed on the system. In fact, for a lot of stuff, that's exactly what Siri does. She uses Bing or another Web Service.
  • I'm not arguing it can't be done. I'm arguing that default apps picker and a Siri API would have to made which isn't going to be trivial. You're proving my point. Personally I hope they do it!
  • It may be that way but Apple could also open up the API's and allow others to access SIRI, ah, but they WON'T. Why because Apple controls it all and won't let anyone else make their devices ugly or not meet their beautiful designs. The Moto Maker is a great idea, offers people the ability to totally customize their phones the way they want it, not they way someone thinks its color combination should be. Apple has no problems selling their phones (iPads maybe) but still why not allow people to be individuals, like they proclaimed way back in 1984 Oh how Apple has become what they hated so much.
  • Default apps is old world thinking. Apple is busy unbundling apps into view controllers. In the future, I don't think the concept of "default apps" will even apply. (Binary bundles used to be the only way to get functionality onto a device. Now, apps can be headless.) Safari View Controller is a good example of how this will all be changing.
  • I don't recall you talking about that before. Forward thinking idea of love to hear more about.
  • I've talked about it in some of the reviews and podcasts. Basically, Tumblr used to be an app, but now you can share to Tumblr using the extension from any app. PCalc can now be pulled down from the notification center widget screen from anywhere. Overcast can be on your CarPlay dashboard. Fantastical can project onto an Apple Watch glance. 1Password can fill in credentials from an action button. Apps are being torn apart into discreet sets of functionality, so what it means to be an app will change. (Just like what it means to be the web has changed thanks to HTTP data sources and API). In 5 years, what will an app look like? I really don't know the answer to that.
  • I guess I hadn't realized that's what you meant or heard you put it in quite that way. Either way it made the light bulb go off. You have a real gift of insight and being clear and concise. Thanks for taking the time to explain it again.
  • Wish they'd unbundle Apple Music from the Music app...
  • I'd like it applied a as a delta. Preserve the user library but have Apple Music as a separate but additional layer that doesn't touch it but is shown as a unified view.
  • Not me -- it trashed my iTunes Match library, not as bad as it has for some others -- but to the point I'd rather have it tucked away in the Crapple folder along with the other unused native apps. I put a lot of effort over the years into curating my music library in iTunes Match, and it's paid off when setting up a new iOS device, PC, or Mac -- it took just a few minutes for Apple Music to mess it all up :-(
  • I was an unfortunate victim of MS breaking out its integrated Music and Video apps (among others) from under the OS update umbrella. I can tell you that it apparently isn't so simple a process; the broken out version of Music and Video never did (and still haven't) live up to their formerly integrated counterparts. I know Apple isn't MS, but if it isn't broke don't fix it. Sent from the iMore App
  • This is a good thing. You do not need to wait an entire year or months for a new version of iOS to get updates to core apps.
  • A little bit of ignorance here... Issue isn't whether or not the apps are preloaded. Google mandates preloading those apps. However, Google does not need to push out an Android FW update just to update Google Play Music with a feature or two, the way Apple had to push out iOS 8.4 for the Apple Music Launch. Allowing the apps to be updated via App Store just makes it easier to push bug fixes out, which may be isolated to specific applications, without having to certify and OTA a complete FW update (regardless of how minor it may be).
  • Read the article :) It doesn't make it easier, not does it ensure more frequent updates.
  • Your article doesn't give a single substantiated reason why it couldn't be easier or more frequent, so saying "read the article" doesn't mean anything. As a developer (you're not one), I can think of many reasons why it would be faster if apps we separated from the OS. Individual app teams could release fixes and improvements on their schedule, and not have to coordinate across many different groups is the most obvious example.
  • It works awesome on Android. Faster updates for core apps and no need to wait for an entire OS update for core apps to get new features or fixes.
  • I give many reasons, so I can only assume you didn't read it. :) That's fine, but really, but the answers you seek are in there.
  • Still better than Apples way Posted via the iMore App on my iPad Air or iPod Touch 5
  • Agree. And less chance of creating additional system wide bugs while rushing out updates to bundle with the fix.
  • Another benefit would be to at least be able to stay away from updates you just hate for a while. The new Music app is so bad (only iTunes 12.2 on the Mac is any worse) with its inconsistent nested menus, its flyshit-sized indicators, its complete inability to tell me what content is local, the crappy mini player bar that you can really only operate if you stand still... Everything about it is wrong. Going back to the previous version would be something I'd do in a heartbeat (just as I would go back to iTunes 7 anytime, think that was the last version before this ellipsis-hell started and it became a complete joke). Apple's approach was good when they did design apps where design and functionality were in some balance. For quite a few apps that is simply not the case anymore.
  • iMore is an incredible site for publishing stories like this!
  • Totally get why there are certain bundled default apps. I just wish Apple didn't find it necessary to make stocks, compass, voice memos, etc... Bundled apps. Please for the love of everything holy let me delete those. Sent from the iMore App
  • But then Siri couldn't do a google/bing/duckduckgo/yahoo/ask/bloody anything search to tell you how much Apple's stock is worth. Although, bundling Voice Memos makes sense. You'd be surprised how many people use their phones as a recorder. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I would like to see most of those apps able to be deleted as well. Especially stocks, podcasts, newsstand, and books. No matter how much apple wants me to, I am never, ever going to use them. And I would really like my local music separate from apple music. I am tired of seeing all the crap Apple wants to sell me. At least let us disable them the way android does.
  • Rene wouldn't want that. He even stated sometimes smart people forget that they did that and email him that their device is broken! The horror! Posted via the iMore App on my iPad Air or iPod Touch 5
  • Newsstand is replaced by News in iOS 9. Deleting default apps is difficult because system features, like Siri and Search, count on them being there. Also, people delete stuff, forget, and then think their phone is broken. It's one of those problems that sounds easy but the more you explore it you realize why it's often not practical.
  • "Newstand is replaced by news" So we changed the name of the app in the Apple poo folder, whoo. Fairly certain Google Now expects messages to be there, but I can disable it, and set Textra as my default SMS app, and guess what? It sends texts through that. I'm fairly certain they could rework Siri and Spotlight to deal. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Much ado about nothing. Just put stuff you don't want in a designated folder and be done with it--it's not as if they're taking up huge amounts of storage space (especially now in the age of 128GB iPhones).
  • Yeah they seem to do the opposite and bundle in useless apps I'll never use, such as the Apple Watch app Sent from the iMore App
  • Hmm ... All very interesting. Up to now I was just kind of putting up with the fact that I couldn't delete these built-in apps. Since I don't have strong feelings about it one way or the other I'll probably remain there, but, I do feel obligated to point out a mostly, untouched, part of this discussion that is also, well ... it's going to be highly subjective. Apple Mail - It's fine, it works, it gets markedly better with each iteration, but honestly, I just get tired of using it. So, thankfully, even though Apple won't let me delete it, I'm still free to try any of the myrid and cool alternatives that are out there, which by now, I have done. But, you know what, I keep coming back to Apple Mail, why, because it works far more predictably than any other mail app I've tried, and over the last four years I've tried, (and am still trying), lots of them. Compared to Apple Mail they are all buggy as hell. I know, other mail apps are faster at getting mail, (especially, it seems, where Google mail is involved), are better at emptying the In Box, etc., but I keep coming back to Apple's Mail app because compared to ALL of the others that I've tried, and that's been a lot, it's just a better, all around, all-be-it boring, experience. It's just better when it comes to getting work done. To a lesser extent I have the same feelings about the calendar app except that there are some really good, and, reliable alternatives to Apple's Calender app. But, Apple's calendar app is great - it just is - and their email app is just way more reliable than anybody elses. I think Apple doesn't just try to "lock" you into their ecosystem for the sake of short-circuiting your choices, they really believe they can and are providing a better experience for those tasks that are more tightly wrapped into the OS, and, like it or not, I don't think they are enirely wrong.
  • My iPhone unlock
  • "It goes deeper than that, though. A lot of what Apple does with apps occurs at the system level. That's what makes iOS so efficient. It also means that what can look like an app bug or app feature is really something at the system level." - Rene
    === In software engineering parlance, that's what's called "tight coupling". And tight coupling is the bane of software design, architecture and engineering. In fact, the field of software engineering was specifically invented to address the disasters and nightmares that arises from "tight coupling". Please Google or Wikipedia "tight coupling" for why it is a design abomination. It's not even debatable. It's a scientifically proven fact that systems that are modular, loosely coupled, and independently partitioned are more robust, more scalable, more testable, more secure, more flexible and generally superior than systems that are tightly coupled. We've known this in the young field of software engineering for 50 years now. So, I'm not spitting rare arcane secret knowledge. This is established fact that's proven time and again. Rene, you're basically defending the indefensible. Remember when Internet Explorer was tightly coupled into Windows? It was virtually built into the OS. Yeah, the argument for that was speed and efficiency. Today we laugh at the obvious stupidity of that idea. The idea led to numerous security vulnerabilities, made updating Internet Explorer virtually impossible, made IE the premiere attack vector for Windows, and made Windows the most insecure OS in the history of OSes. There's absolutely no engineering reason why any of those apps need to be bundled with iOS. None. And if, by God, those apps are tightly coupled to the OS, as you make it sound, then there's a time bomb waiting to go off. I'll chuck it up to the fact that you're a journalist and not a software engineer. But I doubt any software engineer, worth their salt, will defend tight coupling in any kind of way. Apple NEEDS to decouple its apps from its OS. That's just fundamental, sound and prudent Software Engineering. Don't even debate it. The reason they're not doing it is political, and hopefully, not technical. And their users are worse off for it. On Android, Google updates its software and API stack (Play Services) generally every 6 weeks. Users get security updates, bug fixes, new features, performance improvements in the core apps and libraries on demand and when the need arises. If Hangouts has a security flaw, Google can push out an emergency fix almost immediately, without updating the whole damn OS. Tell me. How can this be bad for users? Meanwhile, I had to migrate my wife away from iMessage to Hangouts because, due to "tight coupling" and bad design, a random user, through a text message, could exploit a security vulnerability in iOS that crashed her iPhone and put it in an endless loop. And the update to fix the bug took unreasonably long, because iMessage is tightly couple to iOS. Hmmm... where have I seen that before? Oh, yeah, that's right, reminds us of the days IE was coupled into Windows. Doesn't it? Remember what we said about "tight coupling" above? Yeap, this is a perfect example of why it's a bad idea.
  • Renee just got owned but he's so "tightly coupled" with Apple he won't even realize it.
  • This has less to do with Android vs iOS or Google vs Apple's approach to platforms and app stores. It has everything to do with quickly and efficiently managing updates for apps that have enhancements or bugs that need to be addressed. Google was smart to split their core apps out so they could make changes as needed and not be held back by carriers or OEM's. Apple of course is not constrained by either of those issues, and yet as an iOS user I say yes, Apple should split them out for a few reasons. First, I don't need some of the apps that they install, if I want a stock, weather, podcast, movie, etc app I will d/l what I want from the app store, assuming I can actually find something. I say that given the way Apple has redisigned the app store to highlight their favorites and unless you know an apps name good luck finding it. I always replace mail, safari, camera, weather and I don't use stocks, imovie, podcast, and others so they just waste space. Second, every time Apple launches something new, Health, Watch, Radio they add a new app, something I may not want, need or wish to have on my phone. So I am forced to move it to the "unused" app folder which for me isn't something I should have to do. I like clean lines, think mission furniture and you will get my point. Finally, Apple has made other apps like their office apps and other non-installed apps available so why not make them all that way. It cuts down on issues, bloat (yes bloat) and saves apps space, even if its a few hundred MB's its still saving space. I use both Android and iOS and do so on a daily basis, I use what works so why should my updates, bug fixes or otherwise unwanted apps be there when they don't have to be.
  • Why not use a toggle in settings like for the iCloud Drive app on iOS 9? Sent from the iMore App