13: iOS app obesity

I've just returned home from vacation to the land of snow and proper broadband. While I was away, I had a good think about the need for Wi-Fi connections on iOS devices, particularly the phone, and the fact that Wi-Fi is assumed to be the superior connection. (It rarely is in terms of speed, but it lacks the data caps of a 10✕-faster LTE connection.)

One major use case for an unmetered Wi-Fi connection is downloading app updates — a process which I do daily, and still manually, since I like reading apps' release notes to see whether any interesting or useful new features have been added. As the badge on the App Store icon counted up, I noticed that Facebook, one of the absolute worst release note citizens, turned 50! (What's new? "Every two weeks we push an update to the blah blah blah we're not telling you.") But even more noticeable than this round number milestone was how Facebook.ipa is tipping the scales, now at over 100 MB. Two more of my low-use apps that were updated that day, Airbnb and the United Airlines app, also are pushing up towards triple digits. They're getting dangerously obese, and it can't be good for their health or the iPhone's.

These apps need to go on a diet, stat, and fortunately Apple has provided developers the means to make it happen: App Thinning (how appropriately named!) and On-Demand Resources. Plenty of attention was given to these features at WWDC 2015, but it seems clear that many developers are simply not adopting them, and likely won't without an intervention. Apple has already drawn a clear line on tvOS, where apps — as downloaded from the store — can't exceed 200 MB and may have temporary resources purged. And the 200 MB restriction applies on a device with a base storage configuration twice that of the iPhone!

While I paid the geek tax and got a 64 GB phone, I still want to avoid bloat on my device. Facing excruciatingly long download times, I opted to delete a couple of apps that I almost never use — especially ones that can be replaced in a pinch with a mobile website. The average user may never face these choices if they have automatic updates turned on. And if they aren't constantly seeing reminders of the ballooning size of what appear to be simple apps, they will quickly and quietly run into the trap of running out of storage space. It's a cliché: an iPhone user completely out of space, unable to take photos of the vacation they're on right now. They'd certainly trade the app for the airline they last flew three vacations ago for that ability. Single-minded corporate developers may not care, but Apple, as overseer of the ecosystem, should help trim the fat, even if it's by forcing Facebook et al. to eat their vegetables.