Adopting Apple First-Party Apps

The term “Sherlocking” gets thrown around a bit in the Apple community. It’s used when Apple creates a pre-installed first-party app, or updates an existing pre-installed application in a way that ruins the business of an existing app by duplicating its features at no cost to the Apple user.

Some examples include apps like Readability or Instapaper (Safari Reader mode), Blackberry Messenger (iMessage), 1Password (iCloud Keychain), and Evernote (Notes).

Sherlocking is a Gradual Process

In most cases, the “Sherlocking” doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, over a year or three, the popularity of the apps declines as more users switch to the native experience and as Apple further builds out the feature set of it’s native app.

By the way, the term “Sherlocked” comes from the introduction of Sherlock 3 in Mac OS X 10.2. It was a web search assistant app and was widely regarded as a rip off of another similar third-party app called Watson.

Innovation via Third-Party App Developers

I’m a big fan of the innovation that comes with third-party apps. It’s these developers who bring new ideas and new ways of working to the iOS and Mac platforms. Apps like 1Password (password manager) and Alfred (quick launcher) are staples of my daily routines and workflows.

But with every new iOS version comes new Sherlocking opportunities and iOS 11 is no exception. I’m playing around with a few more of the built-in Apple apps over the next few months to see which have the feature sets that could replace third-party apps I use.

  1. iCloud Keychain – this is a system wide password and data manager that’s been baked into Safari and iOS in general for many years. I’ve used 1Password for this for a long, long time as it offers shared password vaults and works nicely on Mac, iOS and Windows. I’m not going to transition fully off of 1Password, but I have started storing usernames and passwords for less sensitive accounts (social media, etc.) in iCloud Keychain along with 1Password. The integration of iCloud Keychain into Safari across all of my devices is just too good to ignore and new innovations like in-app Keychain support are huge.
  2. Notes – Since I started using the iPad Pro as my main computing device away from the office, I’ve been using the Notes app far more than in the past. I’ve used both Evernote and OneNote (from Microsoft) and while both are good and offer apps for iOS and Mac, they are also a bit feature bloated for me. Additionally, the Apple Pencil support in Notes is far superior to anything that third-party notes apps can offer me. Notes in iOS adds a document scanner that replaces similar functionality from Microsoft and a few other apps.
  3. Safari – I’ve used both Chrome and Opera recently and the latter was really almost perfect for me as a daily browser. But I’m back on Safari because it syncs so nicely across my devices. See also the iCloud Keychain entry above…it’s really well integrated into Safari in a way that can’t be done with third-party browsers. Content blockers continue to get better for ad blocking and new in iOS 11 and macOS is some tracking prevention and auto-play video blocking.
  4. Spotlight – I’ve been an Alfred user for a long time, and before that Launchbar and before that Quicksilver. But Spotlight now works on iPad as well and that has me looking for a unified experience across iOS and Mac. Turns out that for what I use these launcher-type apps for, Spotlight works exactly the same. So I’ve switched.
  5. Maps – Originally I used a Garmin navigation app on my iPhone, and then switched over to Google Maps and eventually Waze when it became popular. I removed Google Maps from my iPhone a long time ago, and Waze was deleted recently as well. Apple’s Maps is just a more beautiful and intuitive navigation experience and it doesn’t have distracting ads and the tracking that Waze has. iOS 11 adds little notes on the map about how much slower or faster alternate routes are and the traffic and rerouting seems to be at least close to what Waze offers. iOS 11 adds lane assist and a few other nice features that make Maps a great car navigation app.

Out-Sherlocking Apple

I feel a bit guilty about throwing some of these apps to the curb, but such is life. In a lot of cases, Sherlocking isn’t a death sentence either. The popular podcast player Overcast continues to thrive despite the Apple Podcasts app which was introduced a few years back. 1Password isn’t leaving my homescreen anytime soon because it has a ton of sharing features that iCloud Keychain doesn’t (yet) offer.

While Sherlocking seems to be something that developers would fear, in many cases the third-apps can do well even with a first-party app simply by out innovating Apple and staying a few feature steps ahead.