Remember geeks, iOS wasn't made for us

Now that Google's Chrome browser has hit the App Store, there's renewed consternation in geek circles over iOS' inability to set something other than Safari as the default web browser.

The same thing happened when Sparrow for iPhone was released, yet couldn't be set as the default email client.

And when/if Google Maps for iOS comes to the App Store, no doubt many geeks will complain about the inability to set it, rather than Apple's iOS 6 Maps, as the default location handler.

We geeks don't just want to use things, we want to control how we use them. We want to be able to tap web links, or email addresses, or location markers, and have them open in something other that Safari or Mail or Maps. We want to launch Siri and have its natural language interface populate texts and make appointments and place calls in something other than Messages, Calendar, and Phone.

But here's the thing -- iOS isn't now, nor has it ever been, made or meant for us geeks. And we knew this from the start.

The iPhone, and later the iPad, were made for:

  1. Steve Jobs.
  2. Regular people, who make up the vast mainstream market.
  3. Reticent people for whom previous computing devices were inaccessible and/or off-putting, who round out the vast mainstream market.
  4. Enterprise and education people, who make up the bulk-buying market.
  5. Geeks, who make up the niche influencer market.
  6. [...]
  7. Richard Stallman

When iOS 1 (iPhone OS 1.0) was released, it had almost zero geek-friendly features. Forget no multitasking, it had no third party apps. No cut, copy, and paste. No push. Nothing even remotely confusable with power features.

We knew this.

But we were charmed by the multitouch capacitive display and the delightful user interface, and so we threw aside our hyper-functional if frustrating geek phones and lined up in droves to buy it.

And then we started complaining.

We married the hot chic (or dude) who couldn't cook and, as soon as the honeymoon was over, we started wondering why there wasn't any dinner on the table.

Never mind it took 2 years for cut, copy, and paste. Never mind we have the App Store, we don't have side-loading. We have Pandora and TomTom and Skype, we don't have desktop-style multitasking. We have FaceTime, we don't have quick settings toggles. We have iCloud, we don't have document attachments. We have Siri, we don't have widgets. We have Notification Center, we don't actionable notifications. We have kiosk mode, we don't have multi-window mode. And we'll have Passbook and Starbucks cards and movie tickets, we won't have arbitrary NFC access.

It's the same reason I'm not getting my And it's the same reason why, year after year, geeks feel iOS preview events like iOS 6 at WWDC 2012 are underwhelming, and while jailbreak remains popular to this day.

We're not Apple's target. We're a side benefit. We're icing.

iOS 6 roundup: Maps, Facebook Integration, Passbook, Siri enhancements, and more

Now I'm not saying we shouldn't complain, that we shouldn't keep pushing for just exactly the geek features we want. John Gruber should. Matthew Panzarino should. And I sure as hell will.

We should all absolutely keep every geeky feature request we can think of on Apple's radar. But we should understand what the priority of those features will be on that radar.

We should understand that iOS doesn't power geek devices made easy enough for mainstream users to employ. It powers mainstream devices made compelling enough that geeks want them as well.

One day, Apple may just enable default app selection on iOS. They'll figure out which stock apps they will and won't allow to be changed, and a way for App Store apps to identify which stock app(s) they can replace, and they'll handle the negative comments when non-Nitro browsers aren't as fast, or email clients don't have or didn't license push, or telephony providers drop calls.

Apple will get around to what we want when they can spare an engineer to both implement it and hide it from mainstream users, and provided it doesn't conflict with any of their more important priorities.

And we knew that when we picked it up.

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.