Look­ing ahead: What will the Mac be like in 2020?

Ap­ple an­nounced that de­vel­op­ers will soon have tools to port iOS apps to the Mac. Ja­son Snell takes a deeper look at this an­nounce­ment and what it means for the fu­ture of the Mac

Macworld - - CONTENTS -

It was as ab­so­lute an an­swer as you could pos­si­bly get. Is Ap­ple merg­ing iOS and macOS? “No” said Ap­ple soft­ware chief Craig Fed­erighi, with an an­i­mated ac­com­pa­ni­ment smash­ing down on the screen be­hind him.

And yet... he made that com­ment just mo­ments be­fore he un­veiled a new sys­tem, be­ing worked on by Ap­ple over mul­ti­ple years, that will al­low the

de­vel­op­ers of iOS apps to bring those apps to the Mac more eas­ily. And first up will be Ap­ple it­self, which is us­ing this ap­proach to trans­late the iOS Stocks, Voice Me­mos, News, and Home apps for macOS Mo­jave, com­ing this au­tumn.

While the Mac and iOS might not be merg­ing, ma­jor changes are in store for the Mac and the apps it runs. It’s hard to imag­ine how the Mac of a cou­ple of years hence isn’t pop­u­lated with apps sourced from iOS. And yet, Ap­ple says, the Mac will re­main the Mac.

What does that mean? What will de­fine the Mac in 2020?

What makes a Mac?

Let’s start by con­sid­er­ing ex­actly what Fed­erighi said on stage at WWDC: “We love the Mac, and we love macOS be­cause it’s ex­plic­itly cre­ated to the unique er­gonomics of Mac hard­ware, like the er­gonomics of the key­board and track­pad, the flex­i­bil­ity in dis­plays and stor­age, and be­cause of the power it ex­poses, it makes the Mac able to ac­com­plish al­most any­thing.”

In an in­ter­view at Wired, he also said: “It’s still macOS, you still have the Ter­mi­nal, you can still at­tach four mon­i­tors to it, you can still hook up ex­ter­nal drives.”

So for Ap­ple, the Mac is de­fined by phys­i­cal at­tributes, hard­ware flex­i­bil­ity, and ex­posed com­put­ing power. Some of these def­i­ni­tions are clearer than oth­ers: It’s un­likely that iOS de­vices are ever go­ing to offer mod­u­lar dis­plays and

stor­age de­vices. I’m not sure I can en­tirely con­ceive of iOS never hav­ing a tool like the Ter­mi­nal – if only be­cause it feels in­evitable that app devel­op­ment will one day be pos­si­ble on iOS – but I can ac­cept that the Wild West feel of macOS, where you can ar­bi­trar­ily in­stall, com­pile, and write soft­ware, is un­likely to ever be re­flected on iOS.

It feels like Fed­erighi is cut­ting it aw­fully close on the ‘unique er­gonomics’ front, though. Ap­ple it­self sells a key­board for the iPad Pro, and even al­lows users to move their fin­gers like they’re us­ing a track­pad when edit­ing text. The iPhone and iMac Pro are about as far as two de­vices can get from one an­other, but the MacBook and the iPad Pro are not.

In his in­ter­view with Wired, Fed­erighi also pooh-poohed the idea that Ap­ple might make a MacBook with a touch­screen. And yet one of Ap­ple’s great­est ar­gu­ments against touch on macOS – that Mac soft­ware was de­signed with key­board and point­ing de­vice in mind – is go­ing to very rapidly be­come ob­so­lete as iOS-sourced apps ap­pear on the Mac in 2019 and 2020.

It’s a tough po­si­tion for Ap­ple to be in, be­cause of course the com­pany is never go­ing to com­ment on fu­ture prod­ucts, but it’s still an open ques­tion about whether the bor­der be­tween the iPad Pro and the MacBook is im­mutable or shift­ing. Un­til Ap­ple re­leases an iOS lap­top or a MacBook with a touch­screen – or both – we won’t know if Ap­ple has de­cided to re­draw the lines.

It’s hard to imag­ine that Ap­ple would avoid le­git­i­mate op­por­tu­ni­ties to grow the iOS plat­form just out of fear of tread­ing on the Mac’s sa­cred ground, though.

In­tro­duc­ing iOS Pro

In a world where rel­e­vant iOS apps can be brought to the Mac with ease, what will make the Mac dif­fer­ent from iOS will be the flex­i­bil­ity and power that Fed­erighi talked about. One in­ter­est­ing change in this re­gard seems to be hap­pen­ing on the Mac App Store, where Ap­ple seems to be loos­en­ing some of the re­stric­tions that pre­vi­ously forced apps out or barred apps from even con­sid­er­ing en­try.

In macOS Mo­jave, Ap­ple has added some new se­cu­rity pro­ce­dures that al­low apps to ask

for per­mis­sion to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion that was pre­vi­ously barred from apps that were sold in the Mac App Store. And per­haps not coin­ci­den­tally, Ap­ple’s WWDC key­note fea­tured sev­eral apps that ei­ther never ap­peared in the Mac App Store or de­parted the store in frus­tra­tion over Ap­ple’s poli­cies. This is an en­cour­ag­ing sign that Ap­ple rec­og­nizes that be­yond the po­ten­tial avalanche of iOS-sourced Mac apps, the Mac App Store needs to be pop­u­lated with the sorts of apps that aren’t pos­si­ble on iOS – and that re­quires more flex­i­bil­ity on Ap­ple’s part.

I’m sorely tempted to say that the Mac of 2020 will in­clude the best of the iOS App Store, plus the sorts of apps that best take ad­van­tage of the power and flex­i­bil­ity of the Mac. You know, like Pho­to­shop and Fi­nal Cut Pro and Logic Pro. But the truth is, iOS is be­com­ing so pow­er­ful that there’s no rea­son that Fi­nal Cut or Logic couldn’t ex­ist on iOS. I use Fer­rite Record­ing Stu­dio (free from fave.co/2JAQrSU) to edit pod­casts on iOS, and it’s amaz­ingly good.

No, a high-end video pro­fes­sional is prob­a­bly not go­ing to edit a fea­ture film in 4K on an iPad Pro, but they’re not go­ing to use a low-end MacBook ei­ther. If iOS is al­lowed to con­tinue grow­ing and adapt­ing, it’s hard to imag­ine Ap­ple erect­ing ar­ti­fi­cial bar­ri­ers on iOS just to pro­tect a few sa­cred ar­eas on the Mac. As a long-time Mac user, I’m ex­cited about get­ting iOS apps trans­lated over to my Mac – it’s well past time that the Home app ap­pear on macOS. But given the tra­jec­tory of iOS, it’s hard

not to see this as a tem­po­rary ap­proach to mak­ing the Mac more use­ful and vi­able un­til the point when iOS it­self has the power to ac­com­plish al­most any­thing. That will prob­a­bly take quite a while, but it feels closer now than it did be­fore.

macOS Mo­jave will fea­ture a new Mac App Store

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