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Apple to Target Combining iPhone, iPad and Mac Apps by 2021 (bloomberg.com)
45 points by jmsflknr on Feb 20, 2019 | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments

This is weird. It’s the sort of thing that management dreams of but which companies like Apple should realize is a bad idea. They definitely need to provide tools for making app families work smoothly across each platform, but even more importantly they need to be segmenting their devices more, not less. The latest iPads are a great example of a device that has enormous potential which is being hamstrung by an OS and dev platform that doesn’t really provide a tablet-focused experience.

And then the Mac is losing what should be its primary audience through unwanted innovations and otherwise stagnant hardware, and a failure to recognize the importance of catering to the power users who might want an actual escape key, multiple types of ports, and a keyboard that doesn’t feel like it came off a rejected tablet accessory.

I can see an argument for fragmenting the laptop world into Pro/developer hardware and consumer hardware. But Apple seems to have got the needs of those groups mixed up. Do Apple’s own software engineers love the newest Macs I wonder?

And then the Mac is losing what should be its primary audience through unwanted innovations and otherwise stagnant hardware,

While I agree with most of the post, the “Mac is losing people” narrative isn’t supported by the numbers. Apple just reported its highest revenue quarter for Macs in its entire history.

The industry has spoken, statistically, no one cares about PC software. Writing Mac software even less. I would rather live in a world with cross platform iPad/Mac apps using Apple’s SDKs than Electron apps.

Apple’s revenues are a crappy statistic because the majority of their revenue and profit both come from consumer-level content consumption devices. For all the talk of “Microsoft Office on your iPhone” there is still nothing to supplant the hidden iceberg of small-to-Medium-to-Enterprise businesses that are only able to function because of hacked-together VBA macros in an Excel spreadsheet stored on a Synology box somewhere.

PC software matters because it’s still the only platform that enables scrappy non-expert _go-getters_ to get things done. Despite the announcement of “real” Photoshop for iPad - Hello? Binary 8bf plugins? Where are you?), Apple’s continued devotion to the Walled Garden concept and associated prohibition on extensible iOS applications - combined with the high barrier-to-entry to develop for Apple’s ecosystem means that the PC will always be relevant.

As an aside, it’s kinda funny that VBA macros copypasta’d together by individuals with little to no formal SE or CS training provide more utility-per-MB-of-RAM-consumed than Electron apps.

I’m not saying that the business PC isn’t relevant. It’s just not profitable. If you haven’t noticed, none of the PC makers are actually doing all that well. Cheap $60 Android phones and $100 crappy Android tablets are popular but I don’t think Apple is going to be chasing that market either. Besides games, only two companies are making any real money selling PC software Microsoft and Adobe.

I did specify “Mac Revenues”....

And I think someone followed up with a critique on frame. I'd agree for a different reason. People would want to know how much slowdown there is in userbase gain and how much of the revenue is made from getting existing users to pay more.

Mac is losing the HN audience?

And in the grand scheme of things, this was probably the same audience who in 2001, were posting on Slashdot commenting “Less space than the Nomad, No wireless, Lame”.

Quantitative sales are not the only metric worth looking into.

For a profit seeking company it is one of the most important metrics, that and customer loyalty and churn.

>This is weird. It’s the sort of thing that management dreams of but which companies like Apple should realize is a bad idea.

They don't mean a single app with the same UI. They mean adapting UI (different for touch vs desktops) and sharing the same backend code.

Which of course is a great idea.

> They don't mean a single app with the same UI. They mean adapting UI (different for touch vs desktops) and sharing the same backend code.

But that's not what Marzipan does. It runs existing iOS apps unchanged.

They are changed slightly - some UI elements differ, some controls have native capabilities (e.g. right-click a text entry field).

The expectation is, I think, that they’ll adapt the UI More significantly eventually.

My personal pet peeve with iPads as productivity devices is how walled-off apps are from each other and how hard it is to import content from one to the other. As an example, I have a huge (500MB ish) high-resolution video in the On My iPad section in Files. Because no option is given in the share dialog, I cannot play the video in Photos, even though both applications support the same file format.

I’m afraid that Apple will be making the Mac more like iOS with any new kind of convergence, not the other way around. We’ve seen this with the directly ported News app on macOS Mojave. Until iOS supports the beginning-to-end software development cycle (no, Swift Playgrounds doesn’t count), they’ll keep the Mac around, but it’s obvious that the “Pro” userbase is no longer of much significance to Apple. Content creators who use Macs produce much less revenue for Apple than the hordes of people who buy new iPhones every year or two.

Edit: they’re called Marzipan apps: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19207757

Agreed. I just got rid of my iPad Pro 12.9 because I could not do anything with it. No browser with WebDAV and decent content blocking. No development tools. No serious network tools (IOS won’t let you have access to a MAC address).

For the price, I should not have to run to my laptop every time I want to do something serious.

Consider the source. Bloomberg's track record hasn't been very good lately.

Until you hear it corroborated by multiple independent sources, don't give anything surprising they say about Apple much credence.

The article hits on this, but I think it probably makes sense for Apple to do this as they plan to run all their hardware on Apple chips in the near future. That said, I think it will likely result in lazy UX that's "good enough" for multiple device types.

> I think it will likely result in lazy UX that's "good enough" for multiple device types.

This is already the case: the Marzipan apps shipping with Mojave are _shockingly_ bad (Home, News, Voice Memos). Standard keyboard shortcuts don’t work, drag-and-drop is inconsistent, and it’s clear that they never considered standard Mac features like multiple windows while designing them.

I worry that people will look at these badly-ported, out-of-place apps and say “Apple are doing it, so why can’t we?” rather than “Even Apple could only come up with this, so let’s not.”

Yes they are bad - but they are also a technical preview. Apple said as much. Would you rather Apple come out with the framework in a year without getting real world feedback?

I don't think that Apple gets a pass on this. These applications are technical previews only in name (and quality), but they are shipping them in a release to customers. And the real clients of the framework–the developers, don't get much out of them except to manage expectations.

Apple could get real "real world feedback" if they have released the actual framework, not stuff made with it.

In my opinion apple released them as preview because they have made the apps, wanted to have them in the release, but knew that people would see that they are weird, look into the .app container and see that they are not made using AppKit.

I am pretty sure that there are a lot of hardcore Mac users in Apple and any of them would see that these are not good Mac apps.

The News app says it's version 4.1.1. It's part of a shipping release version of macOS. I don't know why any regular user should come to the conclusion that this is some sort of technical preview. Why wouldn't they think that it's simply terrible software?

We aren’t suppose to be regular users. We are suppose to be technical. We discuss technical issues on HN and do stuff like watch the WWDC keynote.

Absolutely. I just think these apps should never have shipped as part of an OS release. They are demo apps for the Marzipan technology and should have shipped as part of an SDK.

Yeah that or just label them as beta to set expectations. Unfortunately, Google has ruined the term beta for users. Maybe put them in a folder called “Prerelease”.

Why? Has anyone asked for this?

I want my desktop apps to be dense and feature rich professional applications. My phone apps are relatively simple tools.

I don’t understand why.

This is not just about desktop and phone though.

I ask my iPad apps to be as dense and powerful as my desktop apps. In particular, the screen sizes are mostly similar now, processing power is on the same ballpark, and if anything the iPad has more potential than the laptop from a design perspective.

So macOS <-> iPad parity.

Then there's no technical reason to not have iPhone <-> iPad parity.

You end up with the chain desktop <-> iPad <-> iPhone

>Why? Has anyone asked for this?

I am asking for this.

>I want my desktop apps to be dense and feature rich professional applications. My phone apps are relatively simple tools.

No reason not to share the same codebase, with extra tools and UI widgets shown depending on whether they run on Mac or iDevices.

Means more apps for Mac and more apps for iOS. And not with the crappy Electron wrappers.

My hunch is that this isn't intended to just let iOS apps run on the desktop, but to allow developers to slap different UIs on their logic.

It likely is more of a win for desktop devs as they'll presumably have an easier way to get their apps to iOS, or perhaps for game devs to have fewer requirements to port games.

> Why? Has anyone asked for this? [...] I don’t understand why.

There has probably been a decline in companies wanting to bother expending the effort to produce a separate AppKit version of their application solely to be able to target macOS.

If an AppKit version is off the table, then between:

- No app

- A web app

- An Electron app

- A Marzipan app

The Marzipan paradigm suddenly seems more appealing to Apple and Cocoa-faithful end users.

I had this discussion with someone yesterday, who was attempting to recreate a final cut pro news editing workflow, but do it on an iphone.

I still have no idea why. Just because you can bang a nail in with a screwdriver, it doesn't mean you should when you've got a perfectly good hammer.

People love to take an iPad and force it to replace their ipad and be like "See, I can do all my work on my iPad, you just need 23 apps, and a few cheats and dongles to make it work." I don't understand it. I have a macbook pro, I have an iPad. Trying to force one to replace the other just doesn't work.

Personally, I would love if my phone apps were dense and feature rich professional applications, too.

A lot of times I want to do something and it feels like the apps are holding me back just for the sake of being excessively simple. I've had this feeling on both Android and iOS

Erm, Unfortunately, I suspect it will be that the professional apps will be (and are being) dumbed down.

I agree. Snapchat is great news for this desire. Eventually niche, high-use apps will reach degrees of complexity of which we can only dream right now.

Seriously asking, was this sarcasm? I can see feature rich iPad apps... but is the phone meant for more than quick glances?

It was not sarcasm. Sometimes quick glances can involve advanced tasks too.

Or sometimes I'm on the go, with no tablet or computer and I still want to do something advanced, even if the phone screen is small.

Besides there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to hook up my phone to an external display/mouse and get a full desktop experience. (Samsung is ahead of the pack in this, but the apps are still "mobile" versions that are not as fully fledged as their desktop counterparts)

Cool, thanks.

What worked and didn't work with Microsoft's attempts to do this with Universal Windows Platform?

Was it just lack of active phone / tablet marketshare, or was there a fundamental technical reason it didn't take off?

Speaking for myself (as a huge fan of C# and WPF), I didn't feel like there was enough of a phone/tablet/Store/Xbox market for UWP apps that made it worth restricting myself to UWP. I feel like it was a case of trying to make one tool useful for all jobs instead of choosing the right tool for each job.

Microsoft's schitzophrenic management, comedy marketing, internal politics, zero ability to deliver, non existent QA, disrespect for the end user and the migration to a monthly fee wrote it off.

A consistent well executed vision is required to pull this off. Apple haven't done it yet because it's that hard to work out how to do it without causing the above.

Now we know why the new keyboards are so awful. They want to delight users by removing it completely for the new touch-only interface.

Sigh, I really hope you're wrong. I can't stand the new keyboards (sticking to a last-gen Macbook Air) but the only thing worse than those keyboards are the official iPad keyboard folios from Apple. I'd seriously rather use the onscreen keyboard...

On the other hand, if we had to rely on keyboard cases, there might be better options than what we have today - e.g. I've heard a lot of good about this Razer mechanical iPad Pro keyboard although it's obviously very bulky: https://www.macworld.com/article/3115739/input-devices/razer...

This is already sort of here, and badly. If you're on Mojave, open up the built-in News.app.

Resize the window (it's terribly slow). Mouse hover states aren't even there. Bouncing over-scroll is still present. The speed at which Apple can successfully make this not-awful is probably a good indicator of them trying to make it ship for all developers.

This is one of those corporate directives from upper management that was made in a vacuum. Those three devices have different access patterns, user bases, and user abilities.

Yesterday there was an article on HN about audio glitches on Macs, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19196354, with comments (including mine) about Apple products going down hill. I think this idea is a glaring example of how Apple has lost their way. They are exploiting a market - Apps - instead of adding value and building good products.

I seem to remember Microsoft do exactly this same kind of thing as they were on their downward trajectory?

Microsoft managed to turn it around with a new CEO and a new market category. I wonder what Apple’s next venture will be, and if it will be as successful as Microsoft’s cloud and subscription-service products.

This is great. For those here commenting "why? My iPhone is very different from my iMac", an example: I am writing an iPad app for a client that has a lot of custom Metal compute code. It is great that I can basically run that code on my iMac Pro as well, for rapid prototyping, and because having a desktop companion app makes a lot of sense. Right now though I have to be very careful how to share code between the two apps, mainly because UIKit is not available on the Mac. Unification would solve that headache for me.

What people who haven't written Mac apps need to realise is that many of the UI APIs are not even remotely shared between macOS (AppKit) and iOS (UIKit). Even the most basic concepts like colour are not handled uniformly.

Having UIKit available on macOS doesn't mean you port over your iPad GUI and call it a day; you would still write a desktop GUI. But by having the same API means that your business logic and glue code doesn't get infected with quite so much platform-specific crap like UIColor vs NSColor.

I understand the desire to push computation to a single device, but I don’t agree with it. It is very rare for a device that does ‘everything’ to do anything ‘well.’

In software, Eclipse is the perfect counter argument. It does nothing well, imho. Sketch is the opposite, singular focus = quality experience.

My phone serves a purpose and I expect apps to be bite sized experiences and quick data points.

My computer serves a completely different purpose. The applications should be equally focused on that purpose

I think it's also a bit (just a bit) due to our need to focus on a single domain. It's rare to have your brain ready to navigate the mathematical realm of all universal abstractions in a single setting (can happen but not common for the mere mortal I suppose).

Meanwhile people are doing https://blog.adafruit.com/2019/02/14/the-spudwrite-single-pu... in their backyard.. says something

A lot of people are focusing on the user experience in their commentary here, which I totally get, and I would argue is the most important part of this initiative. I personally have a lot of open questions about how a user interface will work across different paradigms (touch and cursor). The first Marzipan apps (News, Stocks, and HomeKit) have lots of weird corner cases and sharp edges.

Specifically, some of the "elder statesmen" of Apple commentariat see Marzipan as a threat to the old Mac indie app ecosystem. I get that, and I think that there are definitely some aspects of the old paradigm that are at risk (ie, AppleScript integration, etc).

However, I'm giving Apple the benefit of the doubt here.

1) Apple is unmatched in their ability to design user interfaces. It is entirely possible that they will come up with a solution for cross-paradigm interface that works, or come up with a system to "translate" an interface for multiple target paradigms.

2) Apple has a history of successfully pulling off large transitions like this. In fact, they might be the only company that has done this successfully multiple times. (That is, architecture change and UI framework migration).

On top of that, I think all the doubt and suspicion has to be weighed against the following upsides:

1) The upside for the Mac is enormous. The sheer amount of software that could immediately become available on the desktop would probably be the worlds biggest inflow of software to any operating system, ever. And, it is, for the most part, good software.

2) This is mostly a move on behalf of developers. I get the "but no one asked" responses, but the developer story here is probably one of the major reasons Apple undertook the work (that and ARM).

3) This is Apple's answer to Electron for the Mac. It will undoubtedly be better in user experience, performance, and resource usage. (We will have to wait and see whether it is successful, though).

Stephen Troughton Smith [0] has had one of the most refreshing takes on Marzipan that I've seen. He maintains an open source tool [1] that will get your iOS app to run on Marzipan.

[0] - https://twitter.com/stroughtonsmith [1] - https://github.com/steventroughtonsmith/marzipanify

I've been working on an IoT mobile app suite for about 4 years now for a client. While the app has evolved significantly over the years, one thing remains constant, Only one platform is getting top billing, the other is getting the leftovers. All the designs and workflows and copy are solved on the phone first, and tablet gets a cursory glance and some changes if things don't look right. In fact at this point many of our menu views are simply modal popups on tablet so that we don't have to put any mental effort into solving view layouts.

I'm sure management would love to know they could get a mac app for free as well, but I wouldn't imagine it would look like a native mac app.

Well it would definitely be nice to have more serious applications for the iPad and perhaps some new mobile productivity apps crossing over to the Mac.

But the UX is so fundamentally different that I'm afraid the majority of the applications will be pretty awful on the Mac as mobile is less information and feature dense while having a smaller screen.

What could be really great is having feature dense UI's on the larger iPad Pro's since they do have the screen real-estate but often it's underused.

Touch and Desktop mouse/keyboard are different enough to each have their own UI...im guessing this just is another universal binary project...

I have been using an iPad exlusively for 3 years and this makes sense to me.

Once they add this (and a mouse to iPad); then we can have the best of both worlds

Most likely you will get the worst of all worlds.

Desktop is driven by a pointer (mouse/trackpad) and keyboard, both with high degrees of fidelity. iPad and iPhone only have touch. (iPad has a keyboard as an afterthought, and the support for it is inconsistent even within the OS itself).

Can you give examples of: “keyboard support is inconsistent within the OS itself”

I have used iPad Pro exclusively for last 3 years for python coding and office work and not sure what you mean by it.

Unfortunately I've given up on my iPad, so I can't give you precise answer. So, anecdata only.

As I tried to work on it the way I work on my laptop, I would continuously run into an impedance mismatch. What I could tab to I now had to touch. What I could reach with my mouse/trackpad, I now had to touch. What I could select with my mouse/trackpad, i now had to touch. Multiple gestures and keyboard shortcuts ingrained into me by my laptop usage failed on the iPad because the software was never built to be controlled via keyboard.

MS tried doing combining desktop and mobile twice, and it failed. I have no idea why Apple thinks they can do it with any degree of confidence.

If Apple continues as in the past they will deliver great APIs, SDKs and User Guidelines which allows developers to build great apps which feel good on both iOS and macOS. I trust them that they this comes true and I'm excited to see the possibilities which their multi-platform app development tools will unleash for the Apple ecosystem.

> great APIs...great apps...feel good...I trust them...I'm exited...possibilities...will unleash...

That sentence has too many happy adjectives - something which seems to be endemic in the Apple world - and could have been lifted straight from an Apple advertising campaign, the latter in no small part due to the use of the word unleash which thrives in that context.

Go ahead and compare Apple's Cocoa framework with the MFC or Android framework. Build apps on all these platforms and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Assuming of of the reasons for this is to make Mac apps work on ARM.

Granted they are a different company, but this was a huge failure for Microsoft. Different devices have different strengths and weaknesses.

More likely to have apps ported from iOS to macOS than the reverse IMHO

Yes, and we are already seeing it. The "Home" app on macOS right now is clearly reusing a lot of iOS UI elements. It works, although it's tough to imagine a more native Mac app wouldn't be a better UX.

I think there's probably a case to be made when the app you're building is "mobile first," so you (as the developer) inherently do not want a richer, more feature-filled UI on the desktop. In that case, there's value in having a single UI to maintain and for that UI to be familiar to the user in both places.

You act as if it is some great conspiracy that the Home app is a port from iOS. They outright said that it was a proof of concept for the cross platform framework they are working on.

My apologies if that's how it came across. My intention was to support the parent comment's assertion by pointing to a live example supporting his claim.

Honestly we already discussed this when Marzipan was announced. I guess the news here is just the years they're targeting? Regardless, a lot of the comments here are worried about what the headline implies, which is much more sinister than "a fast and clean way to make an iOS-focused UI app also work on the Mac." And there are already live examples on macOS that actually work fairly well!

Would be nice if the apps were ported from MacOS to Linux so we could easily escape this mess.

I hope they've learned from that joke Marzipan.

This can be done using WebAssembly and swift web.

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