In Praise Of Speedy, Simple, Single-Serve Apps

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  • Apple’s new sports scores app is dead simple and really fast.
  • Modern apps are sluggish and bloated, despite running on incredibly fast computers.
  • Single-serve apps from small developers buck this trend.

Apple Sports App.


Apple’s new Apple Sports app does one thing: shows you sports scores and nothing else. We wish more apps could be so simple.

Today’s computers are faster than ever. Even the cheapest phone is more powerful than desktop workstations from the recent past. And yet apps feel sluggish, they cram in ever-more redundant features, and occupy huge chunks of memory and storage. Meanwhile, if you click around on a computer from yesteryear with an operating system and resources so limited that it can be reproduced in a web browser, it’s snappy and simple. What’s going on? And why is the Apple Sports app such a breath of fresh air?

“The trend towards bloated apps, despite the advancement in computing power, often stems from the commercial incentives to capture and retain user attention within a single ecosystem. This strategy, while beneficial for data collection and user engagement metrics, frequently compromises on performance and usability,” Sam Tarantino, co-founder of music-streaming service Grooveshark, told Lifewire via email.

Bloatware Takes Over Everything

There are two trends at work here. One is the tendency to cram ever more features into an app, helping to justify ongoing subscription costs and perhaps driving out competition.

Elon Musk wants Twitter to be an ‘everything app,’ and Instagram is Facebook’s do-everything tool to shut down other social media networks. It added Stories and more to copy and block Snapchat and Reels to copy TikTok. Meanwhile, the once-amazing Slack, a communication app used by big companies or just small groups of folks who share an interest, has slowly gotten harder and harder to use.

The other trend is using the web and other cross-platform technologies to create the apps. Slack, nerd-favorite “knowledge management” app Obsidian, and many more are all built in Elektron, which is essentially a web browser running a single app. Not only does this mean that they don’t fit in with the design and usage conventions of the platform they run on, but it also means that, compared to a well-coded “native” app, they run dog slow. Click on a sidebar item, for example, and you have to wait a moment for it to open.

“Apple Sports is indeed incredibly fast to load and update. Nearly instantaneous. You might think, ‘So what, it’s just loading scores and stats; of course, it’s fast,’ but the truth is ad tech, combined with poor programming, has made most sports apps slow to load. Most apps, period, really. Just being very fast to load ought not be a hugely differentiating factor in 2024, but it is,” writes Apple commentator and sports fan John Gruber on his Daring Fireball blog.

Fortunately, there are still new apps that are focused in their intent and also built for speed.

Smaller Single-Serve Apps

Software doesn’t need to be simple to be fast and well-programmed, but some of the best examples of excellent, delightful software are pretty much single-serve apps.

RSS reader NetNewsWire, for example, is exquisitely fast. So much so that it sometimes catches you out. Transitions between news articles are so fast you sometimes don’t realize they’ve happened. / Mockup Photos

Another great example is Tot, from the Iconfactory (who also developed Twitterific). It’s an iOS and Mac app that gives you seven notes on which to jot things down, and they sync between devices. The idea is that you never lose an idea. You pay once, and that’s it. The developer is committed to supporting the app, but you’ll probably never see any new features.

“Single-serve apps are akin to having a well-organized toolbelt where each tool performs its function flawlessly without unnecessary add-ons complicating the task at hand. This laser-focused approach allows for a more intuitive user experience, faster performance, and greater overall satisfaction,” says Tarantino.

These apps are swimming against the tide, and there are too few of them. On the other hand, apps like NetNewsWire and Tot are made by small teams who love what they do, so they are likely to stick around, not be bought by Yahoo and ruined, and not pile on useless features and AI junk to please shareholders. So grab them, and support them, and remember that not all software needs infinite updates and features to remain relevant and good.

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