MacMost Now 421: iPhone, iPad-Only and Universal Apps

Now that there are many different devices that run apps, it can be difficult to determine which ones work on the iPhone, the iPad or both. There are three basic types: iPhone apps, universal apps and iPad-only apps. Learn how to tell the difference and decide which to buy.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: MacMost Now 421: iPhone, iPad-Only and Universal Apps.

Hi, this is Gary, with MacMost Now.
On today's episode, let's look at buying apps when you own an iPhone or an iPad.
So it used to be simple. You used to just go to the App Store and you could just buy and App and it would work on your iPhone. If you had an iPod touch, it would also work there, except of course in cases, where there was a hardware difference, like for instance if you needed a camera, and there are no camera on the iPod Touch ... which is basically only one type of app.
So when the iPad came along, it basically meant that you can take all your iPhone and iTouch Apps and run them on your iPad. The screens bigger, but you can double the size of the apps so they almost fit on the iPad screen. So the idea was that you don't have to buy all your apps again. All of your iPhone apps worked on the iPad. Well, not true.
The idea was that developers could take their apps, the ones you've owned all along, and update them for the iPad. To make them recognize the larger screen so that on the iPad they displayed large and on the iPhone they displayed small. These are called Universal Apps, and indeed, many developers updated their apps so that they would work on the both the iPad and the iPhone. But other developers went a different way. They decided instead of creating a universal app, to create a separate app for the iPad. They would sell one app for the iPhone, and this would work on the iPad too if you doubled the size. But they created a specific app that looked really good on the iPad. These are sometimes called "for iPad Apps" or even"HD" apps.
So there's the problem- you have to re-purchase the app if you have an iPad; at least if you want the best of versions for the iPad. For some of us, if we liked our app, had to buy two copies; one originally for the iPhone and then buy it again when we got our iPad. Now, this is not Apple's choice, it was the developer's choice. Developers can update their app s to make them universal or they could split them into two separate apps, and make people that own both devices like myself, purchase them twice.
Now you should also note that now there is a possibility for a fourth app. Some apps have been improved for the iPhone 4, which has a higher screen resolution, so they look good on the iPhone 4. It's technically possible to have an iPhone4-specific app that is different that the iPhone 3GS or 3g, or the original iPhone version. And we've already seen some apps that are only for the iPhone 4, like for instance the iMovie App. These are largely because of the fast processor in the iPhone 4. So we'll see if developers further split their apps off and make us re-purchase separate apps when we upgrade our iPhone.
So when shopping in iTunes, note that when you do a search, you'll find apps listed as either iPad apps or iPhone apps. So the iPad apps are always going to look good on the iPad. But some of those iPhone apps will actually be universal apps and will work fine on the iPad. Now you can't trust the requirements' part of a description, to figure out if it will look good on the iPad. Because it will say it is iPad compatible if it works on the iPad. It doesn't mean the developer has done anything special to make it look good on the iPad screen.
So what it often comes down to is checking the description in iTunes, and also looking at the screen shots. A lot of iPhone and iPad universal apps will actually have screen shots for both; that's a way to prove that it will look good on both devices.
Now if you have already purchased this app, then there's nothing else to do but keep it up to date, and once the developer updates for the iPad to make it a Universal App, you'll just have that version. So it is very confusing to figure out if an app is built specially for the iPad, or if it's a universal app, or if it's only built for the iPhone not taking the iPad into account. But I hope, at least this video, has made it a little bit clearer when looking through apps in the store.
Until next time, this is Gary Rosenweig with MacMost Now.

Comments: 5 Responses to “MacMost Now 421: iPhone, iPad-Only and Universal Apps”

    George Brickner
    9 years ago

    The Radarscope app runs native in both iPhone and iPad. It looks great on both platforms.
    It’s pricey at $10 but I think it’s worth it, especially if you live in “Tornado Alley.”

    Shirl Parker
    9 years ago

    When I use Safari on my iPad to read my Google email, and a particular email has graphics displayed, that graphic will display on the next email that I open which also has it’s own graphics. For example, I open an email from Netflix, and then I open an email from MacMost, the Netflix images will show on the MacMost email. I have to shut down everything and reopen to have the MacMost email appear as it should. Then it’s graphics will show on the next graphic email I open.

    This doesn’t happen if I use the Mail app to read the email, but because I frequently follow links from my emails, it works better to read them from Safari (except for the graphic glitch), and then it’s fewer steps to get back to email.

    7 years ago

    I don’t know if it’s me but I’m a bit confused with the way universal apps “update” on both my iPhone and iPad. When I purchase an universal app for the first time, I’ve seen the app get downloaded on both my iPad and iPhone (and iMac if turned on) as expected. However, when it’s time to update these apps, they don’t seem to do so automatically as I would expect. In other words, when I update an universal app on my iPhone, I don’t see the same app get automatically updated on my iPad. The same it’s true if I do it the other way around. It does seem to work in the iMac. Another thing I’ve noticed is that if I have an iPhone or iPad-only app and the app gets updated to universal, when I update to the universal app, again, the app doesn’t get automatically downloaded to the other divece it was not compatible with. In summary, my universal apps only seem to synch across divices when I first purchase them but not when I update them. I have the Apps Store automatic download feature turned on under settings for all my devices. Am I missing something, or is this the way universal apps should work when updating (manually updating them individually across devices)??

      7 years ago

      Well I won’t get into the reasons for everything — but the way it works is each device updates on its own unless you sync them with your iMac, which will update them via iTunes. So just do the updates. No big deal, just takes a second to tell it to update or download something new.

    7 years ago

    Hmm… That doesn’t seem very intuitive to me. Same as iCloud takes care of updates of other apps like contacts throughout devices, for instance, I thought it would do the same for universal apps. If have an universal app, why wouldn’t I want it updated across all devices automatically instead of doing it them individually or depending on iTunes sync?

    Thanks for your feedback Gary.

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