Fix This App: Apple's Cards

[We spend a lot of time with mobile apps. We know what we like and what we don’t—sometimes within the very same app. Each week in Fix This App, we’ll take a mobile offering that’s not without its share of flaws and try to nudge it a little closer to perfection.]

It stands to reason that as the maker of iOS, Apple understands better than most how to create apps that take advantage of the mobile operating system. And for most apps, like the fantastic GarageBand or impressive iMovie, that’s certainly the case. Cards, however, has failed to deliver since it hit the iOS App Store last year. But not to worry—the problems facing Apple’s card creation app aren’t so major they can’t be addressed.

What it works on: Any iOS device running iOS 5 or later can run Cards, but the app hasn’t been optimized for iPads. You can run it on Apple’s tablet, but it will appear in an iPhone-sized window.

What it does: Cards lets you create and send letterpress greeting cards with your own text and digital photos. Choose among approximately three dozen templates—including cards for major holidays, thank you notes, and get well soon message sentiments.

What it gets right: The price. The app itself is free (though sending cards costs $3 for recipients in the U.S., and $5 internationally). Cards are printed on 100 percent cotton paper, and because Apple attempts to print a United States Postal Service Intelligent Mail barcode on the envelope, you may get a push notification on the day your card is delivered to a U.S. recipient. And the stock templates are pleasant enough, if a bit understated.

The templates in Cards don’t give you a lot to work with.

What it gets wrong: Even with 30-plus templates, Cards feels like it lacks for options. Many template options are variations on others—here’s a border with a photo; here’s that border with no photo, just text; and here’s that same border again with both a photo and text! As a result, the options end up feeling too limited.

While it’s understandable that Cards doesn’t run natively on the iPad—only the third-generation iPad has a camera capable of taking print-quality pictures—crafting cards can get cramped on the iPhone’s small screen. There’s too much toggling back and forth between close-up views as you edit text, and wider views as you review what the card looks like.

On pricing, while $3 for a single card seems reasonable, it’s disappointing that Cards doesn’t offer any bulk sending discounts. Spending $90 to send 30 birth announcements seems fairly steep. Competing services like Shutterfly sell cards for less, and often include free shipping, meaning you can save considerable cash on large orders. Of course, Shutterfly doesn’t print on 100 percent cotton paper like Apple does, but that might not be a bad thing—photos don’t look all that great when printed on cotton compared to glossy photo paper. You (or your card’s recipient) may well be more inclined to hang onto a card sent from Shutterfly, since it will likely look more faithful to the original photo.

How to fix it: Three changes will raise Cards to the standards set by other Apple mobile apps. All three of our proposed fixes should be easy enough for Apple to implement.

  • Do some template pruning. Only have one iteration of each template, while giving users the option to add or remove photos, text snippets, and borders. Shedding the near-duplicates frees up more space in the app to even add a more distinct array of templates.
  • Go native on the iPad. It’s nice to have a card-creation tool on your smartphone for whipping up a note whenever the mood strikes. But the design elements in Cards are better suited to the iPad’s larger screen. Ask yourself this question: As capable as apps like Pages, iMovie, and GarageBand are on the iPhone, wouldn’t you much rather use them on an iPad if you had the choice? Apple should follow the lead of its other iOS apps and make Cards universal.
  • Give users more ordering options. Bulk order pricing might give Cards users more of an incentive to send out greetings. And nice though the 100-percent cotton paper may be, alternative options might appeal to the bargain hunter—and photo purist—in us all.

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