Apple: Catalyst macOS apps need to withstand public opinion to thrive

Posted:
in macOS edited July 1
Apple's Project Catalyst will help developers create software for macOS Catalina by migrating iOS apps, and in a discussion one month after its unveiling and initial availability post-WWDC, developers seem to find the experience to be positive though with some challenges, while Apple suggests developers will be driven by public opinion to refine their macOS app variants, in a similar way to the iOS App Store's reviews.




A renaming of Project Marzipan as a solution to get more iOS apps onto macOS, the WWDC launch of Project Catalyst provided developers with tools to start migrating their apps over to macOS as quickly and painlessly as possible. Giving developers a head start in its development by handling various tasks in translating from a touchscreen to a desktop, such as using a mouse cursor instead of a finger, Catalyst is a starting point for refining the app for macOS rather than a quick one-touch solution.

Speaking to members of Apple's staff, Ars-Technica found Apple believes developers will be influenced by how consumers like or dislike apps, just as the current iOS version of the App Store operates. The company already provides a number of guidelines and best practices for developers to follow, such as taking into account translucency and the status bar, but the ultimate arbiter of where an app goes in the future is via public opinion.

Shaan Pruden, Apple senior director of partner management and developer relations, suggests the reviews and ratings "hopefully will drive the right behavior for a developer, which is to do the work and do it right and don't be lazy." Pruden's comment is in relation to whether a developer puts in the time and effort to make the app work properly for a macOS user as opposed to a simple port, taking advantage of all the elements Apple offers.

Todd Benjamin, Apple senior director of marketing for macOS, added "Developers have already survived the court of public opinion on the highly competitive iOS App Store, right? There's a lot of choice there, and they haven't succeeded there by doing the least amount of work possible."

The future influx of macOS apps may have some users concerned that they will see fewer apps that offer a fully-featured desktop experience, with mobile apps believed to generally offer a narrower range of skills and features than their desktop counterparts. By simplifying the porting process, there is a worry that developers will build for iOS instead of using the existing macOS-native frameworks available.

Apple suggests this is unlikely to be as big an issue as people may think, as UIKit does provide developers some access to AppKit. "When you bring your UIKit app over to the Mac, we do leverage AppKit a great deal when you're using toolbars or Touch Bars, for instance, or menus - these are all AppKit," said Apple Cocoa engineering manager Ali Ozer, "So the developer doesn't have to use AppKit directly, but they are using AppKit in their UIKit apps in that context."

Even so, Apple did agree AppKit may be the way to go for apps that need the full range of macOS' access and capabilities. While Catalyst provides developers one way, it is up to those producing the software to decide whether to use it or to continue with AppKit.




Developers working with Catalyst in its early days seem to suggest the project has promise. Talking to employees of Twitter about their app, they praised how Catalyst allowed them to use their existing codebase to minimize the amount of support needed for increasing numbers Twitter client variants.

"The surprising thing that got us excited about Project Catalyst was how much of our existing iOS codebase was able to just work," said Twitter senior staff engineer Nolan O'Brien, though adding it wasn't as simple as ticking a checkbox in code.

There were some elements that were tricky, such as differences in how multi-window support functions compared with AppKit, as well as a lack of events for when the app is backgrounded or minimized affecting elements like database persistence.

Gameloft Barcelona, developers of "Asphalt 9: Legends" found the process to be fairly simple, describing it as "Open the current iOS project on the new Xcode, mark the new macOS target option, and compile," though admitted it didn't work on the first try as their libraries were not supported on non-mobile devices. After altering the code, a fully compiled version of the game using the entire codebase within just 24 hours.

Despite shifting from mobile to desktop, it was also straightforward to change how the graphics were handled, the work largely consisting of adapting shader precision to operate at higher resolutions on the more powerful Macs. There were also changes to how Metal buffer management functioned, but while it wasn't "strictly necessary," it allowed the team to add more effects to the game that aren't in the iOS version while still maintaining a high framerate.

A noted key challenge was adapting the user interface for a bigger display, as "what works on mobile doesn't necessarily need to be done on desktop."

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 8
    LatkoLatko Posts: 398member
    This whole idea is crap because it devaluates the mainstream native Mac app UX to the lowest common denominator of both platforms.
    Substituting a plane’s instruments panel by that of a car doesn’t make flying better.
    This once again proves how Apple is currently being run by some absolute HI design agnosts - despite Cook’s denial today
    edited July 1
  • Reply 2 of 8
    mobirdmobird Posts: 220member
    And then Apple's Vice President of Navel Gazing and Lint Accumulation stated that "blah, blah, blah...". Jiminy Crickets, how many VP's does Apple have?
  • Reply 3 of 8
    Sigh. No. Touchscreen. On. Macintosh.
    Because your arms would get tired or some such BS.
  • Reply 4 of 8
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,124member
    Latko said:
    This whole idea is crap because it devaluates the mainstream native Mac app UX to the lowest common denominator of both platforms.
    Substituting a plane’s instruments panel by that of a car doesn’t make flying better.
    This once again proves how Apple is currently being run by some absolute HI design agnosts - despite Cook’s denial today
    That’s a bit harsh but I do understand the sentiment. There are probably some iOS games that will have a market on macOS but I’m struggling to identify any other categories of iOS apps that are yearning to play in the larger and more capable environment that macOS provides. In fact some of the more capable iOS productivity apps were originally scaled down to run on iOS and I see few incentives to go back the other way. To add to this “solution in search of a problem” theme the forking of iOS into iPadOS creates more incentives to scale up iOS apps to take advantage of the constantly increasing capabilities of iPad Pro variants. 

    I’m also a bit nervous about why Apple is going in this direction because it seems like a doubly bad compromise. I think they’re trying to capture some of the vibrancy of the iOS app market on the Mac platform but in doing so they’re devaluing some of the unique capabilities of Macs and macOS in the process. At the same time it shows a tentativeness to take iOS apps upmarket in a way that replaces the need for Macs for more and more customers. 

    Finally, haven’t we already been down this path before with web apps, Node.js apps, Java, and on Windows, Windows Store/RT apps, not to mention the whole promise of Microsoft’s .NET apps that supposedly could run “anywhere.” 

    I’ll take a wait and see approach on this. 


    edited July 1
  • Reply 5 of 8
    ivanhivanh Posts: 372member
    Unlike other developer apps, Apple’s house apps, like Contacts and Calendar, do not welcome your opinions. You can’t make comments or rate Apple’s apps in the App Stores.
  • Reply 6 of 8
    davgregdavgreg Posts: 422member
    Apple’s Home app on the Mac regularly displays old data from my Eve weather device. My iPhone and iPad will have accurate data that matches the vendor app, while the Home app has old data with no way to force a refresh. That does not exactly inspire confidence when Apple cannot get it right.

    On the greater subject of HomeKit, why can a Mac not be used as the home hub instead of an Apple TV or iPad? With the newer Macs that have the T2 chip, that should be secure enough to be doable. Some of us prefer a Mac to an iOS device and I would much prefer controlling my devices and smart home from a Mac.
  • Reply 7 of 8
    dreyfus2dreyfus2 Posts: 1,071member
    davgreg said:
    Some of us prefer a Mac to an iOS device and I would much prefer controlling my devices and smart home from a Mac.
    While I fully understand and share that preference, I actually think it is a good strategy to force OEMs to think about usability, clarity and information density first by limiting them to a more restricted platform and smaller screens. If you have ever seen an industrial or building system‘s SCADA software (like, say, GE‘s, Hoeneywell‘s, or Siemens‘), you would likely agree that giving them too much space is a crap idea :-) We literally had a HVAC Control system where 8 qualified engineers could not figure out how to turn it on... 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 8
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 2,273member
    dewme said:
    ... There are probably some iOS games that will have a market on macOS but I’m struggling to identify any other categories of iOS apps that are yearning to play in the larger and more capable environment that macOS provides. In fact some of the more capable iOS productivity apps were originally scaled down to run on iOS and I see few incentives to go back the other way. To add to this “solution in search of a problem” theme the forking of iOS into iPadOS creates more incentives to scale up iOS apps to take advantage of the constantly increasing capabilities of iPad Pro variants. ...
    I think the 'solution in search of a problem' is about developers. This makes it easier for the masses of iOS devs to create for the Mac, too. I too, am worried about what that means for the Mac app eco-system, or at least the quality of it that we've enjoyed as Mac users (which has already been eroding).

    It makes sense for some things, I suppose. For example, Marco Arment has talked about making a Mac version of Overcast, which he'd not have done otherwise. I'm not sure we need a Mac overcast, but I suppose it could be useful at times with a sync'd library, etc. But, yeah, it isn't like most iOS apps are wanted by Mac users. Maybe that will eventually change as the markets mature (and iOS/iPad Pro mature).

    ivanh said:
    Unlike other developer apps, Apple’s house apps, like Contacts and Calendar, do not welcome your opinions. You can’t make comments or rate Apple’s apps in the App Stores.
    And, it frankly scares the heck out of me that some of those kind of apps that we have now on the Mac could get the iOS counterparts... considering how Apple often releases half-baked stuff in 'updates' and then takes many years to add removed features back in. The iOS version are pretty awful, even after how many years now?
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