10 app-enabled services that should be ashamed of themselves

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Having an app can be very important for a business in this day and age, and some services even rely on them to survive at all. Unfortunately, there’s often a big differences between having an app and having a good app, especially when it comes to tablets. Sometimes it’s understandable, but the more you pay for a service, the less right it feels to put up with mediocre app offerings. Here’s a list of some of the worst ones that I’ve personally come across.

Apple Keynote Remote

Apple definitely deserves to be mentioned first here for its catastrophe of an app failure that is Keynote Remote. Three months after I first posted about how the app hasn’t been updated with bugfixes for iOS 5, nothing has changed, and you still need to use the Bluetooth app trick to get it to connect via Bluetooth. If ever anything showed the incompetence of Apple, this is it. Not updating one of its own apps with a bug fix for its new OS version is just ridiculous. Especially when it’s an app that is key for many business users, a group you really don’t want to piss off when you’re a technology company.

Spotify

Many people believed Spotify would fail when it first came out. Even now that it’s clear it hasn’t, I still think it will. Or hope it will, rather. I simply don’t believe – hope – that any company with such a piss poor app can survive in this market. It simply shows such a complete lack of awareness of what’s going on, and you don’t have to look far in the app comments to see how annoyed people are at this. Here in Europe, A monthly subscription to Spotify for a year can be more expensive than a Kindle Fire, so Spotify for mobile devices isn’t exactly the cheapest thing out there, which just makes it totally unforgivable that there’s still no tablet optimized app for neither iOS nor Android. Facebook took ages to come out with a tablet app too, but at least that’s free – there’s absolutely no excuse for having poor apps when you charge for the service they’re tied to. On Android, the widget selection is another thing to be ashamed of. If a $4 music app has better widgets than a up to $200+/year music service, someone needs to be fired.

Audible

Once upon a time I had multiple top level subscriptions to the audiobook service Audible. Today I have none. I didn’t stop enjoying audiobooks, I simply gave up on Audible. The company has some of the worst customer service I’ve ever seen, combined with a complete lack of quality control. Try following a book series on the service – I dare you. A complete lack of any sort of system to number books and put them in the same group when they’re part of the same series is just one of many problems with Audible’s selection itself. There are book series on there that cost hundreds of dollars to buy complete, is it really too much to ask that they get numbered and named in a way that makes them appear in the order they were written? Not to mention features that would have been nice to have, like a calendar of upcoming books, and notifications when they come out.

Moving onto the apps, it’s essentially the same thing as Spotify; no tablet optimized apps, and on Android the widgets are again horrible. With a price of up to $23/month for the subscription (not counting books bought on the side, which is bound to happen on busy months) it’s more expensive than Spotify, and just as dependent on mobile devices. Shame on you, Audible, shame on you.

Skype

“Skype on this list??”, you might say, but yes – I think it belongs here. Skype, while being perfectly usable without paying for it, is a paid service, so I don’t feel bad of holding it to a higher standard than what it is currently providing. What lands it on this list is (like with Audible) the combination of a bad back end system and bad app offerings. One of Skype’s biggest issues is how it handles multiple devices, which in short is “not very well”. Take Google Talk, Google’s chat service. Whatever device last had something typed into it is considered “in use”, while the rest are passive, but if enough time has gone by since the last session, all devices get any new messages until your respond. Once you do, it realizes where you are, and starts sending messages there. It can run in the background more or less indefinitely without bugging out, and generally “just works”.

Then you have Skype. It seems incapable of staying signed in on many devices, and notifications of new messages using a device’s main notification system is random at best. That doesn’t stop it from listing any message received since the last time a device was logged in as “new” when you start the app though, so good luck if you start Skype on a device for the first time in a month and you’re an active user. You have to go in and tap each contact to “read” everything too, you can’t just X out of a collective notification on the OS-level. Page up and page down of notifications inside the app, all of which you answered on another device. This complete lack of multi-device awareness makes it a pain (or simply impossible) to use in the same way as Google Talk, which – seeing that Google Talk is free – is simply not acceptable. It also has a plethora of other bugs, like arbitrarily not fetching contact information when logging in. It’s the only chat service I can think of that doesn’t tie contact updates directly to the ability to log in at all, and it’s both annoying and makes no sense. I don’t know about you, but if I log into a chat app and none of my contacts show up, I really have nothing to do in there to begin with.

As for apps, it took them a year and a half to make an iPad app. An Android tablet app is still missing. For me, Skype is something I rarely use on mobile devices except for “on demand” (not “always on”). Perhaps that’s why I haven’t use any of my credits in ages; a crappy experience means it’s one I don’t use and one I don’t end up paying (more) for.

Call of Duty Elite

It’s possibly the most horrible high level app ever released, so it’s an obvious choice for this article. Just read my original post from its release, the list of complete failures range from missing tablet apps to nonfunctional menu buttons on Android and missing buttons completely in parts of the app. Such a joke that if I had been the reviewer at Apple responsible for checking it, I would never have believed that this was an official app to a game series that brings in such ridiculous amounts of money. The developer should be banned from ever releasing software again.

Norwegian comic and magazine industry

I’m going to put an entire industry up for ridicule with this one, as they deserve it. While Americans now have more options for buying comic books than there are devices to read them on, other parts of the world is lagging behind – including my country, Norway. We have quite a well populated comic shelf with some series that have even been released outside the country. Hardcover books are being released left and right to put the monthly releases in one place, and you can laugh your ass off for months with what’s available (humorous comics are most popular over here). You can only do so on paper though, because practically nothing has been released to mobile devices yet, despite it being mentioned as “in development” a year ago. I think the explanation is simple: it’s hard to justify the kind of prices they charge for stuff like that in this country. You now have to pay about 35-40 NOK per comic, which is roughly $6-7. Prices have more than doubled in the last 15 years, which again is more than double what the price increase should have been if they followed normal inflation. Those prices might look slightly out of place in a Norwegian grocery store, but alongside international offerings on iTunes and the Android Market, they will simply look erroneous.

That hasn’t stopped some magazines from entering the digital era though, especially on the iPad since iOS 5 and Newsstand. They haven’t been overly successful though, showing an interesting level of pure stupidity in pricing the products. We’re talking digital magazine prizes that are higher than what you have to pay for the paper version, which simply makes no sense. The result has been quite predictable, with a fair share of negative reviews for many of them. With English versions of the same basic magazine costing as much for a year’s subscription as one or two single issues of the Norwegian versions, sales haven’t exactly sky rocketed for the latter.

Perhaps it simply isn’t possible to compete with international prices when you’re a small publisher from a small country, and perhaps the inevitable result is bankruptcy. I have a feeling they’re headed in that direction anyways though, so perhaps it’s time to go all in and compete by selling more issues, not more expensive ones? I’m sure many non-US readers will recognize part of this from their own countries as well.

Amazon Kindle

The Kindle app is no doubt among the most used apps for many people, which is why it pains me to see how limited it is. It might seem fine for many people, but once you step foot inside one of the independent ereader apps that aren’t tied to a specific service, you suddenly realize just how pathetic the official Kindle app is. As an example, both in comments on my review of the device on our sister site and XDA forum threads I have seen people who are contemplating returning the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus because the version of the Kindle app running on it doesn’t let them change line height and margins. Personally, I also find the font size options way too limited for what I would personally be comfortable with. An app for a service like the Kindle should in my opinion be as good as third party solutions, at least for things that matter, like customizing how text looks. I’m sure the Barnes & Noble app isn’t any better, though I have never tried that personally since it’s US only. Either way, when people are contemplating returning a device because your app is not able to be configured correctly for it, you have failed as an ebook publisher.

YouTube

The more I use YouTube, the more annoyed I get with the mobile apps, especially on iOS (the Android version is less annoying). One of the main ways I browse YouTube is via channels of people I subscribe too, seeing what they have listed as favorites and such. With the iPad app, you can’t even get into anyone’s channel page, unless I’ve missed something very critical. You can hit “more from” and see more videos, but you don’t get access to the same as on a real computer. If you start using YouTube in the browser, you get stuck with a mobile version that isn’t overly interested in remembering your “show desktop version”-settings.

Then you have that idiotic option to not make a video available on mobile devices. I’m sure it’s based on some form of reason, like not allowing a smartphone with YouTube to get access to music videos for free (thus taking away from music sales), but it simply makes no sense. Between YouTube downloaders and Flash-enabled browsers with fake user agents, there’s always a way to get access if you really want to. It does however get mightily annoying when you’re not actually trying to cheat anyone, just watch a freaking video.

And I have to ask, what on Earth is the difference between a Transformer Prime with keyboard dock and a 11.6-inch Macbook Air, portability-wise? Because one gets restricted access to YouTube, the other doesn’t. 5.3-inch Galaxy Note with Android is restricted, 4.8-inch Viliv S5 UMPC with Windows isn’t. I really don’t understand the logic behind that function at all, and it’s not rare to see a video accidentally having been locked down that way. Bottom line, separating between mobile devices and non-mobile devices at all, and especially in an arbitrary way like that, is in itself enough to earn YouTube a spot on this list. If I ran Google, I would give people a one month notice to remove any videos they absolutely do not want on “mobile”, and then simply abolish the feature altogether.

Playstation Network

This app is so close to useless that I don’t even see why Sony paid someone to make it. First off, this is one of those apps that require a login every time, even thought it doesn’t actually prompt you to login – just eventually gives you an error saying you have timed out if you start the app up cold. Considering how PSN was hacked last year and passwords stolen, it’s the absolute last service that should annoy people into switching to easy/repetitive passwords.

You also have to accept a licensing agreement so long that it has absolutely no business on a mobile device, or anywhere else for that matter. At least put it in the freaking thing we skip when we update the PS3/PSP/Whatever itself, not in the mobile app!

When you do get in, you have 6 options, of which 4 are spam/advertisements (Playstation news, game “info”), and one is a button to sign out. The sixth and final one is “My PSN”, which in itself is extremely limited. The reason I would have to check PSN while on the go is to see who’s online and perhaps send them a message or two. Heck, having that while I’m actually playing the game would be useful! The only thing you can do with the friends list however is click to compare trophies, no messaging. In my humble opinion, another “doh” feaure would be the ability to check the PlayStation store, and perhaps even purchase things and have the PlayStation device start downloading those items automatically the next time it’s on. Yeah, no, keep dreaming Andreas. Oh and tablet app? Hahaha, good one, now go use the scaled up phone app!

Movie tickets

As I wrote in my digital train ticket article, the only place I still have to bother with useless paper is at the movies. And considering how often the ticket system they have is broken in some way, doing everything from timing out online to printing blank tickets at the movie theater, Norwegian cinemas need a digital system quite badly. Then again, it probably would be just as buggy. In this day and age though, with everything from banks to train companies providing digital services via apps, I really don’t like paying for any service where I feel that a mobile companion app is missing. Especially not when a single ticket is $20.

What’s your most annoying apps?

This list consists of 10 services I personally use/have used/wished I could used, and naturally they’re not representative for everyone, nor even valid in some countries and places. So, what companies and services annoy you the most with their apps (or lack there of)?

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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