Yuck, no thanks.
Known internally as “Marzipan” according to Bloomberg’s report last year, the project would allow developers to create a single version of an app that works with touchscreens (iOS) or mouse and keyboard (Mac).
And while universal compatibility would be the near-term outcome, long-term, this new undertaking could lead to one operating system that runs on all of Apple’s devices.
The approach would be similar to what Microsoft already has with its Universal Windows Apps (UWA): Apps that work on desktops, laptops and tablets running Windows 10, and even Windows 10 Mobile phones (RIP).
Heck, Apple’s alleged plans to bring iPad apps to Macs has more in common with Android apps running on Chrome OS.
But there’s a fundamental difference between Apple and Microsoft/Google. Microsoft needed UWAs for a number of reasons: get more apps on Windows 10 Mobile and get more apps on Windows 10 tablets. Both strategies failed.
Google has had more success. It needs Android apps on Chrome OS because the entire platform is built on cloud-based services and web apps. As robust as some of them are, they still pale in comparison to the kind of features available from a native Windows or Mac app.
Which brings us to iPad apps on Mac. Who needs them? It’s not like Macs are starving for apps like Chrome OS is.
There are tons of Mac apps, like Microsoft Office, iMovie, and Adobe Lightroom, with way more features than their watered-down versions on iPad. Why would anyone want fewer features on a computer platform that’s designed to help you do more? It doesn’t add up.
Now, I know that there are some apps (like the official Twitter app) on iPad that are updated more often than their Mac versions, but those are pretty rare.
Bringing iPad apps to the Mac also raises another question: How do you control them? With keyboard and mouse, dummy! Yeah, Apple would probably make it easy for developers to add keyboard and mouse support to their apps just as devs can with Android apps for Chrome OS, but that defeats the whole point of good app design.
A good iPad app is one that embraces the advantages and limitations of a touchscreen. Does Angry Birds work with a mouse? It sure does, but it plays better on a touchscreen. Similarly, iMovie, with all of its precise controls and settings, is better suited for a mouse and keyboard than using your chubby fingers.
Universal Windows apps and Android apps work well on PCs and Chromebooks because most of them now come with touchscreens. There are no Macs with touchscreens (and no, accessories like the AirBar that “transform your Mac’s screen into a touchscreen” don’t count).
Does iPad app support mean Macs with touchscreens are coming? It’s possible, but Apple’s been pretty against touchscreens and it’s unlikely that’ll change.
Back in 2010, Steve Jobs said: “We’ve done tons of user testing on this, and it turns out it doesn’t work. Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical.”
Apple’s been resisting touchscreens on Macs for nearly a decade, even as PCs and Chromebooks have added them.
At the same time, Apple’s also defended its reasons for not merging iOS and macOS into any one super OS. In an interview with with CNET following the launch of the controversial Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller said:
“We did spend a great deal of time looking at this a number of years ago and came to the conclusion that to make the best personal computer, you can’t try to turn MacOS into an iPhone. Conversely, you can’t turn iOS into a Mac…. So each one is best at what they’re meant to be — and we take what makes sense to add from each, but without fundamentally changing them so they’re compromised.”
Instead, Apple prefers to keep iOS and separate because it plays to their strengths:
“It is great to provide two different ways to solve some of the same things, but they also do very unique things that the other doesn’t. Having them separate allows us to explore both, versus trying to force them into one — and only one — model.”
What boggles me the most is that iPad apps are reportedly planned for Mac this year, but not iPhone apps. As somebody who loved the Google Pixelbook and greatly enjoyed using Android phone apps in a windowed desktop environment, I’m confused as to why Apple wouldn’t bring iPhone apps simultaneously with iPad apps. There are over twice as many iPhone apps than on iPad (2.2 million versus 1 million) and most iPhone apps don’t have iPad-optimized versions.
Here are the top five free paid iPad apps of 2017, according to Apple:
Not a single one of these needs an Mac app — all of them work just fine in your desktop browser. I suppose Netflix would be better as a Mac app because then you’d be able to download videos to watch offline, but other than that, there’s no reason it needs an app.
Now, compare that list to the top five free paid iPhone apps of 2017:
The No. 1, 2, and 5 apps are all iPhone-only and don’t have native iPad apps. You could even scratch Instagram off the list because it’s got a web version.
So, as you can see, iPhone apps would be far more desirable on Mac than iPad apps.
Aside from the aforementioned possibility of touchscreen Macs coming, I can only think of two other reasons why Apple would want to push developers to bring iPad apps to the Mac: gaming and greed.
Gaming is a no brainer. Compared to PCs, gaming on Macs is pretty sad. Sure, Macs get a port every once in a while, but you don’t buy one expecting to play the latest AAA blockbuster on it. You just don’t because most Macs have punier graphics cards than PCs.
iPhone apps would be far more desirable on Mac than iPad apps.
Which only leaves greed. Apple is a business and a successful business is one that makes money. And right now the Mac App Store is languishing. It’s not making anywhere near as much money as it could be.
Developers have mostly given up on the Mac App Store — the most popular apps like Office and Adobe Creative Cloud aren’t sold on it — which means Apple can’t get a percentage cut for every download that’s sold, like it does from the apps sold on the App Store.
How do you prod developers into getting pumped for the Mac App Store again? You sell them on this idea of iPad apps working on Macs. It’s a new revenue stream! It’s good for developers and it’s good for Apple, company execs will say. Except, like I said, it’s not actually that good for developers. Why should devs give Apple a cut when they can sell directly to users and collect in full? It’s already working just fine for Microsoft and Adobe.
You know who else it’s not good for? Customers. There’s already a great place to run iPad apps — it’s called an iPad. Apple already sells two iPad Pros with keyboards and Apple Pencils that are designed from the ground up for touchscreen use. Leave the iPad and Mac separate. There’s more than enough room for both to coexist.
Definitely fix the Mac App Store and give developers a reason to sell their apps on there, but don’t just shoehorn iPad apps on the Mac and declare it “mission complete.”