ATTENTION, TIM COOK: Here's Apple's Startup Shopping List

tim cookApple’s Tim Cook

Photo: AP

Even after dropping billions of dollars on shareholders and investing heavily in its supply chain, Apple has more than $120 billion in the bank.So it can easily afford a little startup shopping spree.

We’ve noticed a trend in apps we’ve reviewed recently: More often than not, they fix basic flaws in the iPhone’s software, or fill in the gaps in Apple’s deficient Web services.

When Tim Cook reorganized Apple’s top management in October, he talked about the need to have the company’s hardware, software, and services work seamlessly together.

Easier said than done: Apple has long been a hotbed of hardware-design talent. In software, it’s a mixed bag, nailing some aspects of the user experience and botching others. And in services? We’ll just say “Siri” and “Apple Maps” and leave it at that.

It’s not enough for Cook to reshuffle Apple’s leadership. He needs to build up the company’s talent base. Great developers like to work with other great developers, and Apple, for all its strengths, hasn’t had the critical mass of talent in Web-based services and software that it needs.

Cook doesn’t have to look far, though: Apple’s own App Store is a daily talent show for developers. He only needs to click “Buy” and persuade them to join the mother ship.

Because he doesn’t really need their products, as much as their keen eyes for the flaws in Apple’s offerings and their knack for coming up with the right fix.

The guys from Flexibits improved on Apple's built-in calendar.

Apple's built-in Calendar just isn't that great. It isn't intuitive, and its design is plain, verging on dull.

We like Fantastical because it fills in all the areas where the iPhone app falls short.

On top of fixing the iPhone's Calendar, the guys at Flexibits have completely reimagined what the desktop calendar experience should be like on a Mac--and that's where Apple really needs the help. Fantastical for the Mac is loads better than the built-in calendar. (For example, it's easily accessible through your menu bar.)

Acquiring Flexibits is a no-brainer. The technology is already there and the team can get right to work on making Apple's built-in calendar software on all platforms much, much better.

Checkmark is 20 times better than Apple's Reminders

Apple's Reminders fall short in several areas.

Checkmark smartly puts date- and time-based reminders together with lists and location-based reminders. It's well designed and takes excellent advantage of the iPhone's geolocation capabilities.

The guys at Snowman, the makers of Checkmark, are already hard at work on a desktop-based version of their app.

Besides having a great app, cofounder Ryan Cash and the rest of his team are perfectionists. They'd fit right into the Apple culture.

Instead of making its own terrible podcast app, Apple should have just bought Downcast.

Apple's Podcast app is an epic disaster. Downcast is light-years ahead of Apple's app. Why didn't Apple just hire the team behind Downcast? That seems easier.

While Apple's Podcast app is cluttered and dumb, Downcast functions much better and is beautifully designed. It just works--as Apple likes to say.

Downcast features AirPlay support, gestures, the ability to speed up playback and stream episodes without downloading, gesture support, and viewing embedded images in podcast episodes.

The guys behind Camera+, Tap Tap Tap

Apple's built-in camera app is alright. It supports HDR, has a newly added panorama feature, and autofocus. But Camera+ remains far ahead of Apple's app.

Besides touch exposure and focus for more control, there are multiple shooting modes, the ability to use the flash to fill in light, and a much better digital zoom.

As well, it adds borders, captions, cropping, filters, and the ability to clarify your pictures with one tap.

Tap Tap Tap has six other apps--a sign of the prolific creativity Apple's in-house apps team desperately needs.

Waze for crowdsourcing maps.

People say Apple's maps are bad. We get that.

People also say that Apple isn't good at taking input from users about correcting the mistakes.

A simple solution would be to acquire Waze. The GPS app is great for crowdsourced information it would allow users. Apple already gets some of its data from Waze, but imagine if every iPhone user was actively encouraged to help fix Apple Maps? It would zoom past Google Maps in no time.

Wickr for increased messaging security

Wickr takes messaging security to a whole new level. The app uses military-grade encryption to quadruple-encrypt your messages, allows you to set self-destruct times, and auto-shreds data.

One of the founders is Nico Sell, the organiser of the Defcon conference for hackers. Her addition would instantly make Apple an even more attractive place for hardcore security geeks to work.

Loren Brichter for his design expertise and style

Loren Brichter is a self-described hands-on software developer. He has a knack for amazing design and simplicity. After he came out with a great mobile Twitter client for the iPhone, Tweetie, Twitter snapped him up to help build its own mobile client. Apple could certainly benefit from his experience with the platform. We can imagine Brichter helping Apple to better integrate social services and design better apps.

Most recently he created one of our favourite new games, Letterpress. Improving Apple's Game centre, which has lacked insight into what game developers and game players really want in a gaming platform, could be another big project for him.

Mrinal Desai from Addappt could revamp the iPhone's Contacts app

Apple's built-in address book is pretty dumb. It could use a new look and a smarter interface.

Instead of updating our own contacts, why not let others do it for us? That's the idea behind Mrinal Desai's new app Addappt. Desai, an early LinkedIn employee, has a huge amount of experience starting successful companies.

Thanks to those experiences, Desai self-funded Addappt--which means Apple wouldn't have to pay off a long list of venture capitalists to get its hands on Desai's brains.

RealMac for their Mac software experience and excellent design

London-based Realmac Software has a host of apps designed specifically for the Mac that improve on native features, like taking better screenshots, sharing content with social networks, Web-design software much better than Apple's now-defunct iWeb, as well as one of our favourite iPhone apps, Clear.

Sometimes it feels like Apple's Mac apps are halfhearted. The company could benefit from Realmac's design ethos, innovative software ideas, and experience across desktop and mobile software.

Grokr is fixing one of the iPhone's biggest competitive gap with Android

Grokr is changing how we search: Instead of waiting for us to type in keywords, it draws in information from all kinds of sources and anticipates what we needs.

Grokr's mobile app for iPhone works similar to Google Now--which is a killer feature that sets Android apart from the iPhone. It offers information tiles like weather, traffic, trending topics, and news. It does this by pulling in information from multiple sources--what Grokr calls a 'knowledge graph'--and social networks like Facebook and Twitter to provide users with the most relevant information possible.

If Apple integrated this technology into the iPhone natively it would make a lot of users happier. Its founder, Srivats Sampath, was the former CEO of McAfee.com, the Web-based antivirus service--so he'd bring a ton of experience in running large-scale Web services.

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