Why IOS apps on the Mac will not just im­prove the Mac, but IOS, too

Adding fea­tures to make IOS apps more palat­able to the Mac could end up mak­ing the IOS ex­pe­ri­ence bet­ter.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY JA­SON SNELL

Macos Mojave is here ( go. mac­world.com/mjup), and with it, Ap­ple is now of­fi­cially ship­ping four Mac apps that were writ­ten for IOS and run us­ing a trans­la­tion sys­tem that Ap­ple’s plan­ning on rolling out to app de­vel­op­ers next year.

But while it’s fun to con­sider what apps from the IOS App Store might come to the Mac App Store in 2019, it’s also worth ask­ing what else Ap­ple might bring to macos next year—and whether it might have some un­ex­pected ben­e­fits for ipad users in the process.


Let’s start with the ob­vi­ous: This en­tire project of bring­ing IOS apps to the Mac is a work in progress. As Ap­ple said on stage

at WWDC in June, per­haps the best way for Ap­ple to un­der­stand the scope of work that’s re­quired to al­low IOS apps to re­side on the Mac is for the com­pany to ap­ply that tech­nol­ogy to its own apps. So in macos Mojave, we have News, Home, Voice Me­mos, and Stocks.

Ap­ple prob­a­bly chose those apps, at least in part, be­cause they were rel­a­tively easy to mi­grate. None of them are com­plex, doc­u­ment-based apps that would have to sup­port mul­ti­ple win­dows on the Mac, for in­stance. But even so, there are places—set­ting a sched­ule in Home, for ex­am­ple—where the as­sump­tions of IOS still poke through on Mojave. A set­tings win­dow is a modal and un­mov­able phony win­dow in­side the real app win­dow. A date con­troller uses ios’s spin­ner in­ter­face, which is al­to­gether un­suited for macos.

Th­ese first IOS apps on the Mac, in Mojave—well, they aren’t very good ( go. mac­world.com/bjmy). Don’t get me wrong, they’re bet­ter than noth­ing—but they also show that Ap­ple was ex­ceed­ingly wise to spend an­other year on this tech­nol­ogy be­fore rolling it out to de­vel­op­ers.

The good news is, I don’t be­lieve Ap­ple is happy with the cur­rent state of af­fairs, ei­ther. The ios-to-mac app ex­pe­ri­ence will need to get bet­ter next year for users and de­vel­op­ers to be sat­is­fied.


This sys­tem (still un­named, though me­dia re­ports have gen­er­ally set­tled on call­ing it af­ter one re­ported code-name, “Marzi­pan”) will de­velop and, with any luck, will im­prove the user ex­pe­ri­ence on the Mac and IOS alike.

Some of Ap­ple’s built-in Mac apps lag be­hind their IOS equiv­a­lents. The best ex­am­ple might be Mes­sages, which lacks

all sorts of IOS fea­tures, in­clud­ing stick­ers and mes­sage ef­fects. It’s hard not to imag­ine a world where most of Ap­ple’s cross-plat­form apps are de­vel­oped us­ing this sys­tem, al­low­ing them to be fea­ture­com­pat­i­ble across IOS and the Mac. Which is worse, know­ing that the app you’re us­ing orig­i­nated on IOS, or get­ting up to find your iphone be­cause the Mac ver­sion of the app you’re us­ing doesn’t sup­port a fea­ture that Ap­ple rolled out on IOS last year?

There are ben­e­fits on the IOS side too, es­pe­cially for ipad users. As I’ve dis­cussed be­fore ( go.mac­world.com/mc20), once apps of­fer sup­port for key­board short­cuts and mouse point­ers and the Mac menu bar, it’s not im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine that fu­ture ipads could of­fer those fea­tures if you con­nected them to a Blue­tooth key­board and track­pad.

A lot of IOS apps also lag be­hind their Mac equiv­a­lents in key re­spects. If Ap­ple wanted to use the IOS code base for

Ap­ple Mail to build a new ver­sion of Mail for macos, I’d ex­pect the com­pany to make some ef­fort to add in some fea­tures that the Mac cur­rently of­fers, like Mail Rules. And while the iwork apps on IOS keep get­ting closer and closer to their Mac coun­ter­parts, there are still some func­tions you just can’t do on IOS.

Imag­ine a world where Ap­ple has to add fea­tures to IOS apps so that they’re palat­able to Mac users. That solves a lot of prob­lems for IOS users too, doesn’t it?

(And then there’s Pho­tos, which has fea­tures on both plat­forms that don’t ex­ist on the other side. There’s some work to be done there, and given that Pho­tos for Mac re­ceived al­most no new fea­tures this year, it’s pos­si­ble that work has al­ready be­gun be­hind the scenes.)

One key is­sue to be dealt with will be apps that can of­fer mul­ti­ple win­dows, which is com­mon on the Mac but es­sen­tially nonex­is­tent on IOS be­yond sa­fari, which can dis­play two sep­a­rate web­pages at once. For a while now I’ve been ex­pect­ing Ap­ple to add in-app Split View to next year’s IOS re­lease; now imag­ine that fea­ture also be­ing tied into Marzi­pan.

In other words, maybe IOS apps fi­nally get the con­cept of mul­ti­ple win­dows or doc­u­ments or views open at once at the very same time that IOS apps come to the Mac, where mul­ti­ple win­dows are an im­por­tant ex­ist­ing con­cept. Good tim­ing, right?


It’s got to be a big bur­den for Ap­ple to main­tain th­ese two sep­a­rate app plat­forms, both in terms of sup­port­ing de­vel­op­ers and in terms of writ­ing its own apps. If the com­pany ex­e­cutes on this app-trans­la­tion strat­egy ef­fec­tively, though, there will be one app for­mat that spans de­vices from the iphone all the way up to the 5K imac Pro.

Will this be a good ex­pe­ri­ence for Mac users? That’s all down to the ex­e­cu­tion. I ex­pect that we’re in for a few years of grow­ing pains. Ap­ple will need to keep up­dat­ing what it’s do­ing and lis­ten to feed­back from users and de­vel­op­ers about what’s not work­ing right. In ad­di­tion, it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that Ap­ple will use this tran­si­tion as an op­por­tu­nity to re­de­fine what it con­sid­ers good be­hav­ior for Mac apps. I hope that it will make those de­ci­sions for good rea­sons, and not sim­ply be­cause of its fail­ings in de­vel­op­ing this new tech­nol­ogy.

A lot of Mac users will cer­tainly be grumpy if the Mac changes, be­cause they’ve been us­ing the Mac for a long time and change is hard. But Ap­ple knows that a whole new gen­er­a­tion has grown up with ios—and mak­ing the Mac a more fa­mil­iar place for IOS users is a huge op­por­tu­nity.

Look, no­body said that this would be easy. In fact, it’s in­cred­i­bly hard. But with the re­lease of th­ese first four IOS­trans­lated apps in macos Mojave, the tran­si­tion has be­gun. It will al­most cer­tainly get weirder from here. But I’m hope­ful that it’ll also get bet­ter. ■

Ap­ple’s Craig Fed­erighi an­nouced at WWDC 2018 that the com­pany is de­vel­op­ing tools to al­low IOS apps to be brought to the Mac.

One thing we could see as a re­sult of the abil­ity to bring an IOS app to the Mac: bet­ter ipad key­board sup­port.

Ap­ple’s Craig Fed­erighi ad­dress­ing IOS apps on the Mac at WWDC.

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