App size silliness

Yesterday, I wanted to resize an image on my phone. I had just been assigned custom emoji responsibility for a Slack. Such responsibilites one does not delay.

That part of the story had a sad ending in that I found no app up to the task. In the short time spent, the solution was that I posted enough in said Slack that someone else offered to resize the image for me.

However, the quick searching I did do led me to install and breifly play with Photoshop express. It may be called express, but it is in every way a serious app for performing complex editing tasks. I also noticed that it downloaded pretty quickly on my 4G connection, which in turn led me to think about app sizes once again.

A quick digression: for app size here I chose the size listed in IOS' usage section of the preferences, the size you see when you tap on an app and get to see both its "own size" as well as the size of its "documents and data". I was about to use the sizes in the app store, but noticed they differed rather sharply depending on where you looked. Specifically, the sizes given in your list of app updates are much larger than the ones you see if you tap into the details of a given app. The sizes IOS preferences give should be the space actually occupied by each app on disk, and thus a pretty honest size for comparisons.

I made a little list:

Procreate is an embarrassingly (for its price) full-featured drawing app, a tool one can do serious work in. Photoshop express too, when it comes to retouching and the like. Instagram's job is to display a list of images posted by a list of people. How the app for this can eat up more than 75 megabytes of space is beyond me. I suppose they could … include 4K video demonstrating features or something? Fortunately for Instagram, it pales in comparison to the outrageous demands of Facebook's two flagship apps. I installed both of them fresh just to check the sizes. I have had Messenger installed on and off, but I recently deleted it for now because no app I use for sending text and images deserves to eat up this much space, plus the bandwidth it consumes for its weekly updates. I have not used the "main" Facebook in years, partly because it often seemed worse than the web version feature-wise, partly because of its demands, partly because of the stories of it simply being a horrible app citizen, and partly because I have no need to waste more time on Facebook than I already do.

Facebook writes a lot of cool code. I am sure a lot of the code in their apps is really neat, and really useful for someone. But come on, even if all this space is actually for user-facing features (I suspect most of it is a grotesque stack of dependencies by and for developers) there is no way any user is able to make use of all of it. We used to talk about how everyone only used 5% of the features of Microsoft office, but everyone used a different 5% and so it was extremely hard to remove any part of it. But Office is a tool to get serious work done, it is worth serious money and people pay for their 5%. Facebook is a way to communicate with friends and a way to gather obscene amounts of data about this communication. The first part is the one I want, and Tweetbot does that part in less than 1/28th of the space.

I am completely aware of how things may have got here and why. Storage and bandwitdh are always getting cheaper, everyone wants new features, and everyone wants to move forward as fast as possible. Caring less about bandwitdh and space and building things on top of existing things are ways to try and get more things done. Completely fair, just be able to justify the tradeoff to the user. For me, these kind of numbers for apps which, at best, provide pleasant distractions are simply not worth it.

In a way, it is good that Facebook's apps are like this. It keeps them off of my phone, makes it a little easier for me to avoid putting even more resources into their sinkholes. Timesinks which collect my data and show me ads have no right to eat a third of a gigabyte of space on my phone. (And let us not get into how they really, really want to access everything and push notifications to me at every turn.)

Just to wrap up, here is the on-disk size of a full-featured image editor for Macos:

It also made that editing task the story started with fun.