Apple: Dozens of missing apps

I am currently using a micro-SIM iPhone while waiting for my Symbian smartphone to get out of service.
So I thought to use this occasion to compare the two, from a ‘what I miss on the Apple phone’ perspective.

The Nokia Store has ‘only’ 120 kiloapps and Apple’s AppStore has over 1 million. However, I still find the Nokia device more useful, and have had some frustration with the Apple already.

I try to explain this difference of features trough a list of ‘included’ Symbian stuff, that the Apple phone either

  • needs an application for (which oversizes the store with 10x variants) or
  • cannot fix through an app

This list also has hardware features that I love to use, exactly to show that “there’s an app for this included on Symbian” is also about features un-fixable by an app.

1. microUSB

microUSB port

I got an Apple, I also need to get an Apple cable.

As with most smartphones used by demanding users, the ones made by Apple last throughout a day – if you’re careful. The problem lies that you can’t borrow a charger from just anybody.

Every other device has a microUSB connector now, and I’m not talking only about phones.

Solution: no app for this.

Carrying a cable is the usual work-around (having all your friends with Apple devices works too).

2. Mass storage support

Now this may be for computer-savvy only, but Media Transfer Protocol (MTP/AFC) cannot do anything. Apart from using any existing desktop tool to manage your files from the phone, mass storage support has some deeper implications than that: you can e.g. boot a computer from the phone, or scan the flash memory for bad areas and mark them like this.

Verdict: no app for this

3. Camera button

camera button

Although available from the lock screen, I find it very weird to start the camera by pressing the home button and sliding up.

On my phone, I can press the button to start the camera app with my hands tied behind, or under the table etc.

When I get the Apple out, there’s a 5 second awkward moment when everyone looks at me unlocking the phone, while they’re preparing their posing face for the shot – or simply having time to say ‘no pictures’.

Verdict: no app for this

4. EXIF info for images

exif info

I am used to check the exposure used, ISO setting etc. whenever I feel I have time to expand my knowledge on the possibilities of taking a picture. With the default image gallery launched from Apple’s camera, there is no such info I could find.
There are a few apps in the store when you search for EXIF, but at least two I’ve tried required enabling the GPS to run, so in my opinion they don’t count.

If you use ‘Awesome camera’ instead of the built-in one, you do have these information shown when browsing. The only problem is that this application only shows the pictures taken with it, and launching from lockscreen would get you the default camera app.

Verdict: no perfect app for this

5. Landscape use

Almost in-existent. You cannot use an Apple phone in your car holder in landscape mode in a comfortable way.

While most of the applications do work in both orientations, the homescreen itself does not, nor the dialer.

Verdict: no app for this

6. Screen saver (standby clock)

I don’t know about you, but I never had a phone that doesn’t display the current time. And this is true for the smartphones I bought.

The concept of ‘stand-by screen’ did not get carried over when Apple wrote the iOS from scratch, for the then new phone, nor did they add it later. They do have lockscreen clock, notifications etc, but nothing is displayed while the phone is on the table, charging, or when you pick it up from your pocket.

Verdict: no app for this

7. Contact management

When I took the path of using an Apple for some this small period, the first thing I had to do was to erase all contacts. To my amazement – or amusement – (just like the copy-paste lack of several years ago) there is no way to select multiple items in a list and apply an operation on them (in this case, delete). I had to delete them one by one.

The next thing I did was to enable Bluetooth and select some contacts to send from my Nokia. Again, it didn’t worked – and I was not impressed by this lack of functionality.

The fact that it syncs contacts with the cloud is interesting but not something that replaces on-phone management (selecting, grouping, merging contacts etc. on the go). Cloud is the one there should be apps for, not the built-in contact management.

Verdict: you need a couple of apps to add mature contact management to an Apple. For the import, I used ‘vcf Contacts’ plus iTunes on the PC.

8. Bluetooth send / receive

Again, it’s not everyone’s option to sync with the cloud for everything. If you want to transfer that tune or picture when out and about to a friend, you’d better have 3G or better data connection, so you’d better not be on the top of the mountain when doing this. Other than the contacts problem I had, I also used to use bluetooth to upload small files (like screenshots for this review) to the PC I am writing on, which may not be mine, so no iTunes etc available.:/

Although there are apps for this, they seem to only work iPhone to iPhone.

For the nay-sayers – that bluetooth is an old tech and nobody uses that – I challenge you to hook up a keyboard and a mouse through cloud..

Verdict: no app for this

9. Unlock key

This is one more hardware thing. There is no unlock button on Apple’s iPhone: both the home key and the lock button require you to slide to unlock.

Symbian had the slider on the side of the phone since N95. Slide to lock. Slide to unlock. Of course you can press the home key and use the screen to unlock, but you don’t have to. There’s a button for this.

Once you’re used to one-gesture unlocking you can’t go back.

Verdict: no app for this

10. Flashlight

Of course there is an app for this in Apple’s AppStore. The downside is that when you actually need a flashlight, staring at your mobile’s screen looking for it might not be the best thing to do. Plus, you don’t get to do something else with your phone because the LED flash stops when the application is switched out!

Notice the same slider button above? keep it slid for about 3 seconds and the flashlight goes on or off.

Verdict: no perfect app for this

11. Notification light

Not only does my phone has a couple of buttons more that I like to use, it also uses the light beneath the home one as a notification light. With your phone locked (and no sleeping screen) you can quickly know that you missed a call or message by this tiny led.

I am unaware of a such led on the Apple phone.

Verdict: no apps for this

12. Answer / Reject buttons

Need I say more? Just look at the picture above. You can press the green button to display the list of recent calls, press it again to redial the last dialed number. Also, you can answer calls with it! Or reject them with the red one (if you need to send a message instead of rejection you still need to use the touchscreen).

Verdict: no app for this

13. Haptic Feedback

This could have easily be the number one complaint.

You see, Symbian has slight vibrations when interacting with just about any GUI element: either you’re scrolling, or you are at the end of a list, clicking an item, punching a keyboard letter in a text field, locking and unlocking.. really, anything. There are a dozen of different types of vibrations, and the actual vibrator seems to simulate even the very place of the interaction.

The only time when they are disabled is in ‘Power-saving mode’, when you’re at battery’s life end.

To me, using an Apple phone for the first time was like using a dead-battery phone..

Verdict: no app for this

14. Smart dialing

Search boxes may be Google’s thing, but for searching a small contact list a faster way is available, that allows you to punch numbers in too. This is called smart dialing, and has been around on several phones since numeric keypads.

There are apps for this in AppStore – it’s just that the custom apps are not the ones that are started at the end of a call, so the integration is not 100% perfect. You do get to replace the green phone icon with any app you like, however.

Verdict: there’s at least one app for this (CeleDial) but it does not replace the dialer

15. Free Offline SatNav

Well, I’m not in the position to actually give a two-figure amount for a 30-days offline sat-nav solution from the Apple AppStore, so I only tested Google Maps. Just like Apple Maps, it requires a data connection, so when you’re out of signal or out of your home country, you’re also out of luck.

Since 2008, Nokia offers Nokia Drive free life-time on their phones. Maps are updated once in a while and you store them on you SD card (or internal memory). Easy.

Verdict: no free app for this

16. Multitasking

Number sixteen. I left this as far behind because I actually hoped it worked. I thought Apple really found a way to have the foreground application running as smooth as possible, without compromises in the way.

But since then, I had a small app wanting to update a badge telling me to let her use the GPS (?), I had SkyDrive uploading only part of some files because err.. I was using some other app. I had the flashlight turned off when switching to homescreen.

So I think this is a half-baked solution, and leaving apps running is way better on today’s (phone) processors. Of course, you would need a task manager! – it’s like saying you don’t need prices when shopping in the supermarket – but only for cases when an app really misbehaves (the price is really outrageous).

Verdict: no app for this

17. Pull-down togglesBelle-status-bar-swipe-status-panel-open

Maemo had this, and Nokia added them to Nokia Belle. I find they’re very useful – turning on or off mobile data, wifi, bluetooth and silent mode in one click.

The screen also contains notifications – something the Apple phone has too. But what I’m missing is the toggles..

Verdict: no app for these

18. microSD

Actually any type of expansible memory, but the most popular is SD in its micro incarnation. This allows Symbian devices to be shipped with a couple of megabytes of storage, and add 64GB later..

Couple that with the fact that you can install apps on the card since 1992 (kidding), I don’t actually see any reason why small personal computers would have this aspect – storage – locked down.

The differences in Apple phone prices between 8, 16, 32 and 64 GB are a total ripoff compared to class 10 SD cards which you usually buy for your camera outputting RAW files.

Verdict: no app for this

19. Arrow keys


Apple’s text entry allows you only to position at the end or start of the word. To further refine your positioning, you can rely on long-press and the magnifier.

Apart from these, Nokia’s keyboard has also left and right arrow keys. These appear exactly after you have clicked to change position in the text.

Verdict: no apps for this

20. Homescreen widgets

Speaking of unlocking the screen with a key – even if you have an app running, a simple home button click would take you to your homescreen.

In there, you could have your weather, news ticker, clock, 3G on/off switch or just about anything you can think of.

You can have some of this info without unlocking on Apple’s lockscreen, but not the interactivity of e.g. a simple on/off switch

Verdict: no apps for this

21. Am I connected? Why?

Symbian’s status bar makes a clear distinction between 3G and 3G with mobile data connection active (available in 3,5G variant too). In normal use, with data enabled, the connection is not active until an application (like a scheduled mail retrieval) needs it. In that moment the status bar clearly indicates a connection is ongoing.

Even more, in the pull-down menu, clicking on the mobile provider shows a connection status (speed, up/down bytes, duration) that lists the applications that use data. So if you are worried why you’re connected and you see Mail there, you may remember you scheduled it to automatically retrieve mails each hour. Which you may or may not want, but at least you know what to disable.

Plus, whenever you want to end the current mobile data connection you just have to long-press the red (reject) button.

On Apple, with cellular data on, I am not sure what happens (is it connected all the time?) because I do not see any difference. Plus there’s no such list of apps that are connected (there are some netstat-like apps out there).

Verdict: I don’t know of any app for these

22. Click a phone number in an SMS

You could probably read SMSs with another app that detects phone numbers, or at least lets you select text normally.

But the stock Messages app requires you to switch back and forth between it and Contacts..

Verdict: I don’t know of any app for this

Update: it does seem to suggest plain numbers to be phone numbers, but at least one dotted/dashed format example I received yesterday didn’t work.

In the end..

I guess the looks and the fluidity of the Apple phone are its pluses, and the fact that most sites optimize heavily for its UA string* or even develop native apps for it.

But being spoiled by the Nokia hardware and Symbian’s maturity, iOS looks like a child’s GUI slapped on a powerful BSD that was then locked down, for a reason I do not agree with.

-=End of story.=-

* I know for a fact (using other webkit mobile browsers) that most mobile sites sniff the user agent string, and normally let the better ‘touch’ version show up only for iOS’s WebKit (and some for Android’s).

updated 2012-12-28 with this conclusion and the 21st app;

updated 2013-09-08 with the 22nd

User contributed

1. Alarm and mass storage usable with phone off

2. Call recording with the (included) Voice Recorder

Other candidates

This is stuff I thought about, that do have apps for Symbian (so, not included) but are not feasable on iOS.

Install another keyboard

Ok, Symbian may not have the sheer number of keyboards available for Android. But Swype is one of the best ones if you’re running pre-FP2 software. The ‘typing’ speed you can gain in a language that has Swype dictionary is amazing. Baidu is another example. I don’t know of any on Apple.

Verdict: no apps for this


Historically, having a couple of browsers on your desktop meant that if one site misbehaves, you can always try it in another. Same goes for Symbian’s Webkit browser vs Opera Mobile and other browsers available.

The only alternative browser (that doesn’t use Apple Webkit’s component) on Apple phones in Opera Mini, which went well through the AppStore aprovals because is not actually executing (Javascript) code at all.

Verdict: only one alternative browser app for this, and it’s Opera Mini

Profile automation

Situations is a Symbian app that allows you to set different profiles based on time, location, wifi network, cell tower name etc. It used to be made by Nokia but they handed the development over to Pastili labs.

Given the fact that no app can run for no reason in the background, I cannot think of a way to do this on the Apple phone, other than keeping the GPS powered:D

Verdict: no app for this


24 Responses to “Apple: Dozens of missing apps”

  1. Great article, I’m amazed by the stuff lacking in IOS.

  2. iPhone suck and is overpriced. Symbian sucks but is cheap. Windows phone 8 is awesome and has cheap/expensive the way you want it to.

  3. Alarm and mass stockage usable with phone off !

  4. Amazing article

  5. Sad thing is so many of those points also apply to the Lumia phones from Nokia.

  6. thanks fo this!
    I was wondering what ist this little thing on the right bottom corner of your 808 with sleeping screen? is it an “@1” and stands for 1 new email?

    • That’s a connection. It’s not my 808, but on mine it shows like G! when you are on mobile data.

    • Unfortunately is not back. They said 15 days but there were many holidays :-S. I’ll update here if it is indeed resolved (yup, you nailed the bug:D).

    • “@1” means 1 new tweet in the application “Gravity”

      • thanks for that Bryan! does it stands for one direct tweet to ME or just one new tweet from the ones I’m following?

        btw very nice that gravitiy can show new tweets but nokia itself is not able (or dont want) to show new emails on sleeping screen…

      • Thanks Bryan, It all makes sense now! G! is for Gravity:)

    • Aaand is back from service. Looks good – passed one subway test, more to come tomorrow:D

  7. Sadly, many of these limitations goes to WP as well

  8. Android has most of this covered but also comes with great web browsing performance.

    • and the multitasking is amaaaaazing…

      he is just talking about what he is missing on the iphone compared to his 808…

      go ahaed and send him an SGS3 and I bet he will write something about what he is missing on this device running android ;-)

  9. Great Article Vlad, well done

  10. a decent number of these issues would likely be fixed by jailbreaking, but having to JB a phone to unlock some pretty basic functionality is a bit of a downer.

  11. Brilliant article. Hope it’s an eye opener for the iSheep fanboys out there. I was wondering if you could do a similar comparison with the lumia 920 if possible. It would be really helpful.

  12. Great article. Good to see Symbian loving people!

  13. Reblogged this on Lock On-e and commented:
    Now this is an eye opener for iPhone lovers out there. I’m not saying Symbian is better, I am saying is that no OS is perfect! Its up to you to decide which OS is better.

  14. Not to mention there’s no 2-way call recording. A severely underrated feature until you actually use it… from then on you can’t imagine living without it.