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The classic app: Apollo (with dev Q&A)

The best app ever made for reading Reddit

The latest entry in our classic app series made using Reddit a joy. Doubly so when Dynamic Island appeared…

Apollo v1.0.

Apollo v1.0.

What was Apollo?

A Reddit client, before Reddit even had its own official iPhone app. It started out as a beta in 2015, and two years later finally arrived on the App Store.

Why was it a classic?

As you’ll have noted above, it took two years for Apollo to reach release status. That’s not because its creator was a slacker. It’s instead indicative of the care and polish that went into the app. The end result was usable, powerful and customizable, taking into account what Apollo’s community wanted and needed. It was a shining example of how to create a third-party iPhone app for a popular online network.

Where is it now?

Alas, as you’ll discover in our interview with Apollo’s creator, the app was effectively killed by Reddit. However, a little of it lives on in the increasingly bonkers Pixel Pals, which debuted inside of Apollo and lets you add tiny virtual pets to Dynamic Island.

Visit the Apollo website and check out Pixel Pals (free + IAP) in the App Store.

Apollo final

Widgets from Apollo’s final release.

Q&A: a brief history of Apollo

We speak to Apollo creator Christian Selig about his app’s glorious birth, finest moments and unfortunate end.

Why did you create Apollo?

Christian: Back in 2014, none of the available Reddit apps felt specifically designed for iPhone. I’d just finished an Apple internship and yearned for a Reddit app that felt at home on iOS – almost like it was built by Apple – and figured I’d take a swing at making one.

My initial work resonated with many others looking for something similar. Over time, the plan grew grander, moving beyond Apollo feeling like a first-class iOS app to one that also took advantage of new iOS features, so users could live at the bleeding edge of fun new Apple tech.

What set Apollo apart from other Reddit apps?

My north star was always that someone who loved iOS could pick up Apollo and instantly understand how to use everything – an immediate familiarity and kinship that put a smile on your face. For the initial launch, I also wanted to balance a rich feature set with an approachable interface.

I think I went overboard with features, which resulted in it taking almost two years to reach the v1.0 release on the App Store. But I felt it important to have a no-compromise experience and include as much as humanly possible – until people groaned that Apollo was more than ready and said to just release the thing!

As time went on, a few things continued to separate Apollo. It was always a first-class iOS app experience, integrating new features on day one. I always listened, because staying in tune with your community of users is incredibly powerful and removes guesswork. And I always remembered Reddit is about sharing interesting content and comments and so never neglected that core experience.

Apollo development sketches.

Apollo development sketches.

How did community input shape your app?

After the launch I had thousands of people giving intricate feedback on every aspect of Apollo. It was like ten thousand years of a massive ocean rushing over a coarse rock and shaping it into an incredibly polished, beautiful thing. I leveraged that phenomenon until the end. It made Apollo’s development process so much more fruitful, and also – as a lone indie developer, which can sometimes be isolating – a lot of fun. Apollo wouldn’t have been one hundredth of the app it was without listening to the community.

What are your favorite moments from Apollo‘s life?

It would be hard to compare any success to the initial launch. Going from a developer with a few thousand app downloads over several years to hundreds of thousands in a week was mind-blowing and exciting. People were so kind and supportive, and I realized for the first time I could do this for a living. It felt like getting thousands of hugs, with people telling me I’d done a great job – which after years of work was the best feeling.

A close second was working hard to integrate each year’s cool new iOS tech, and getting mentioned in Apple keynotes, which felt like being at a concert and getting a shoutout from your idol. I’d live off that high for months!

Apollo on the screen at WWDC 2023.

Apollo on the screen at WWDC 2023.

Apollo’s end was sudden, and forced by major Reddit rule changes. What are your thoughts on that?

Even now, I can’t wrap my head around how abrupt it was. After a decade building Apollo, it felt like someone randomly woke up one day and decided third-party Reddit clients had to go.

I miss working on such a fun app – and with the community, which was hugely supportive and helped me get through it. But the end was exhausting and I had to move on. It’s not something I think about much now.

But do you still think it’s important for networks to allow access to third-party clients?

The value of a platform lies in how much you value user enjoyment, and I think it’s vital to have a rich developer ecosystem. Mature, established platforms can lose sight of that and prioritize other things.

To be candid, I don’t think Reddit did a great amount of work fostering that over the years – third parties didn’t have access to many new Reddit features, and there was no willingness to change that. What we could have had is a mutually beneficial relationship that enabled us to build incredibly cool options for the community.

Reddit instead chose to be weirdly adversarial. But with millions of users, it’s hard to satisfy everyone with one experience – imagine if the world only had one restaurant chain! Cool, imaginative options can grow a platform and increase user enjoyment – especially among power users, moderators and people with accessibility needs.

Was there anything especially cool from Apollo we never got to see?

Loads of things. I build in a sporadic way, sometimes with a half-dozen half-finished features at any point. I find that makes development more exciting.

A big upcoming feature was the iPad app – a completely reimagined experience to take advantage of the larger canvas. I put a lot of work into that, but it unfortunately won’t ever see much usage…

Apollo’s iPad version.

Apollo’s iPad version.

Finally, where did Pixel Pals arrive from, and what can we expect from it in the future?

It started as a goofy idea for unused space around Dynamic Island, which was ripe to have fun with. There wasn’t much room, so I needed something small. A cute, friendly animal came to mind.

I spun that off into its own app when people didn’t understand Reddit – or why they needed to download a Reddit app to get a virtual pet. That gave Pixel Pals more focus and let it reach a much broader audience.

I’ve so many ideas swirling around for Pixel Pals, including for Apple Vision Pro. I can’t wait to build things I’ve been dreaming up – it’s such an imaginative canvas.

Pixel Pal