iOS, Mac App Extensions offer some hope for walled gardens

Walled gardens like Twitter, Facebook, and even Evernote have long allowed us to work with other apps and services, but only a small handful they choose to support. With apps gaining an official extension system this fall for working together in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, these gardens will face a choice: evolve with the ecosystem or become the most restrictive, frustrating, and inhibiting things on our home screens.
iOS gained an “Open In…” system for sharing basic documents between apps four years ago. But most, if not all, the gardens never adopted it, clearly by choice. They don’t want users leaving their ecosystem, which is why we cannot reasonably archive a tweet in Evernote, or send a Facebook link to Pinboard, or quote someone in Pages or Word. The gardens are the alpha and the omega. Why archive or quote a tweet in the app you need to get things done when you can just click the star button and feed an ad algorithm?

In the case of user-supported services like Evernote (of which I am a big fan and paying customer), these restrictive choices baffle in a different way. They aren’t trying to make me see more and more and more ads, they’re trying to help me get things done. But even on OS X, where apps have always had ways to work together, I had to manually copy and paste the title and body of this piece from the Evernote, erm, note where I scribbled my initial ideas into Write. Like an animal. As much as I am a fan of Evernote, it’s a tedious, hindering experience that makes me curious about alternatives.

With official, system-wide extensions on the way, the potential for Mac and especially iOS apps to work together expands immeasurably. Actually, it explodes in an invigorating display of colors, delightful sounds, and hope. Apps like 1Password can fill information directly into Safari forms and all the other apps that add support. We can archive webpages in Evernote and Stache. Afterlight—really, any photo app—can edit photos right in the Camera Roll. Even better, I’m just barely scratching the surface of this potential.

Walled gardens cannot afford to continue ignoring these massively powerful bridges of user empowerment and productivity. In many cases, they might be the alpha these days—where news breaks, communities organize, and ideas are first captured—but they are rarely the omegas. We need to get things done with all these tweets and notes and links, and we need smart and fast ways to do them, especially on mobile.

Users now know their apps should be able to work together, and they’re going to be even more frustrated when they don’t.

[photo by Wee Sen Goh]