IOS Plus: Imag­in­ing a Mac that runs IOS apps

The pay­off could be big for both plat­forms.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY JA­SON SNELL

In­spired by a Bloomberg re­port ( go. mac­ that Ap­ple may in­tro­duce a way for IOS apps to be con­verted to run more eas­ily on macos, I re­cently came up with a list of IOS apps that I’d like to see on the Mac ( go.mac­

Af­ter Ap­ple’s Chicago event in March to launch the new ipad, Ap­ple CEO Tim Cook spoke to an Aus­tralian writer and told him that ru­mors of merg­ing the Mac and IOS weren’t true ( go.mac­ mios). I was maybe ten feet away from them when this hap­pened, and it was a me­dia scrum—not the kind of place where a CEO does any­thing but re­state the ex­ist­ing com­pany line. (In the same con­ver­sa­tion Tim Cook lit­er­ally said “I use

every­thing and I love every­thing.”) I’m not en­tirely con­vinced that Ap­ple’s long-term ap­proach to its plat­forms is to keep the Mac alive long enough for IOS to evolve so that it’s able to pain­lessly re­place it.

But what if we take Tim Cook at his word? Any Mac-ios merger would prob­a­bly be many years from now, so re­gard­less, if the Bloomberg re­port is true, Ap­ple will be push­ing the IOS and macos app worlds closer to­gether much sooner. What does that mean for the Mac, and how we use our Macs ev­ery day?


The strat­egy of keep­ing the Mac around while get­ting an in­flux of new apps from IOS makes a lot of sense. If Ap­ple killed the Mac to­day and just started mak­ing IOS lap­tops and desk­tops, many Mac users couldn’t make the switch—there are just too many ar­eas in which the Mac pro­vides fea­tures that IOS can’t match.

But if the Mac can con­tinue to do all of its stuff—vir­tu­al­iza­tion, ter­mi­nal, apps that aren’t ap­proved by the App Store—while also hav­ing the IOS app library? That’s a pow­er­ful com­bi­na­tion that lets the strengths of IOS ap­pear on lap­tops and desk­tops with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the Mac’s strengths. Over time, you could even start to think of the Mac as IOS Plus.

One thing seems cer­tain: Ap­ple’s not go­ing to just slap IOS apps into macos via some sort of em­u­la­tor or com­pat­i­bil­ity layer. Con­vert­ing IOS apps to also run on Mac will take ef­fort on the part of app de­vel­op­ers, who will have to make many de­ci­sions about how their apps dis­play on macos de­vices. (This is why, should Marzi­pan be a real thing, it will al­most cer­tainly be rolled out at Ap­ple’s an­nual de­vel­oper con­fer­ence.)

Re­design­ing IOS apps for the Mac seems like a daunt­ing chal­lenge, and it is, in many ways—but it’s not some­thing IOS de­vel­op­ers haven’t done be­fore. It was not too long ago that IOS apps only came in one size, namely the size of the orig­i­nal iphone dis­play. The re­lease of the ipad added a sec­ond size, which caused de­vel­op­ers to cre­ate a sec­ond set of apps. But ear­lier this decade, Ap­ple an­nounced to de­vel­op­ers that they needed to start us­ing tools that would al­low app de­signs to shift based on the size of the de­vice.

It was a big deal at the time, and

If Ap­ple killed the Mac to­day and just started mak­ing IOS lap­tops and desk­tops, many Mac users couldn’t make the switch—there are just too many ar­eas in which the Mac pro­vides fea­tures that IOS can’t match.

re­quired some se­ri­ous work on the part of de­vel­op­ers, but it was nec­es­sary for IOS de­vices to work prop­erly on the many screen sizes in use to­day: the iphone SE, iphone 6S/7/8, iphone 6S/7/8 Plus, iphone X, ipad, ipad Pro 10.5, and ipad Pro 12.9 mean that there are seven dif­fer­ent sizes of IOS screen. De­vel­op­ers have to do the work so that their apps work well on a tiny iphone SE screen and a 12.9-inch ipad Pro screen.

Back to the Mac: It’s not hard to imag­ine ad­di­tional tools for de­vel­op­ers to adapt to larger dis­plays, like the ones on the Mac. Even more im­por­tant, though, will be adapt­ing to dif­fer­ent in­put meth­ods and metaphors. Ev­ery Mac has a key­board and point­ing de­vice at­tached, and doesn’t have a touch­screen. IOS apps run­ning in a macos con­text will need to ac­cept mouse clicks in lieu of touches. The key­board goes from be­ing an op­tional in­ter­face to an as­sumed one.

Then there’s the menu bar. IOS doesn’t have one, but it’s pos­si­bly the defin­ing el­e­ment of the Mac in­ter­face. As Jack Well­born wrote re­cently ( go.mac­world. com/mnbr), “The menu bar has been…the best mech­a­nism for pro­vid­ing fa­mil­iar­ity, dis­cov­er­abil­ity, and pro­gres­sive dis­clo­sure in user in­ter­faces on any plat­form.” A menu bar doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily make sense in an IOS con­text (though when I com­pare Num­bers on Mac and IOS I am stunned at how many fea­tures are laid bare in the menus that I can’t fig­ure out how to in­voke on my ipad), but on the Mac it’s de rigueur.

As some­one who does work on my ipad, also con­sider how these changes might im­prove the IOS app ex­pe­ri­ence, too. If adapt­ing an app to run on the Mac re­quires much bet­ter sup­port for key­boards, couldn’t that also im­prove the ex­pe­ri­ence for those of us who at­tach

key­boards to our ipads? If apps need to un­der­stand mouse cur­sors, wouldn’t that open the door for IOS to op­tion­ally ac­cept the use of point­ing de­vices as well? And I’m not say­ing that I’d wel­come a proper menu bar at the top of my ipad Pro’s screen in cer­tain apps, but... no, wait, I am say­ing that.


Then there’s the big ques­tion: If Ap­ple moves to make the Mac more friendly to IOS apps, would that be enough of a rea­son to bring touch­screens to Mac hard­ware?

Ap­ple has re­sisted touch­screens on Macs thus far, in part be­cause they be­lieve (rightly, in my opin­ion) that adding touch to the Mac in­ter­face would re­quire a pretty se­ri­ous re-think of that in­ter­face. That’s tough to do when the Mac’s great­est as­set is its fa­mil­iar­ity.

A touch­screen on a Mac makes more sense, though, when it’s able to run a whole class of ap­pli­ca­tions that are built with touch in mind. And even old-school Mac apps could take ad­van­tage of touch in a few places—scrolling web­pages in Sa­fari, or pinch­ing to zoom in Pre­view, for ex­am­ple.

The abil­ity to run IOS apps and sup­port for touch­screens also opens some in­ter­est­ing hard­ware forms that Ap­ple has thus far avoided, in­clud­ing the “con­vert­ible”—a lap­top that can be folded or twisted or de­tached into some­thing more like a tablet. I can’t imag­ine a Mac con­vert­ing into an ipad, but I can imag­ine a touch­screen Mac that runs apps sourced from IOS be­ing able to be flipped into tablet mode to run those apps.

Then again, maybe IOS app de­vel­op­ers will look at the Mac and just de­cide it’s not worth the ef­fort. Or maybe IOS apps will ap­pear on the Mac, but with­out proper adap­ta­tion, cre­at­ing a weird mish­mash of an in­ter­face that’s nei­ther fish nor fowl. (That sounds ex­actly like the sort of thing Ap­ple ex­ec­u­tives have said re­peat­edly that they want to avoid.)

But let’s think pos­i­tively. The ar­rival of IOS apps on macos could al­low the Mac to re­tain its ex­ist­ing strengths while get­ting an in­fu­sion of new soft­ware and hard­ware. In tex­ture, the Mac could ex­ert its own in­flu­ence on IOS, mak­ing both plat­forms richer and more flex­i­ble. It’s a fu­ture I’d love to see. ■

A touch­screen on a Mac makes more sense, though, when it’s able to run a whole class of ap­pli­ca­tions that are built with touch in mind.

Adapt­ing IOS apps for the Mac could lead to bet­ter key­board sup­port on the ipad.

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