Why Apple needs iPad apps on the Mac

June 01 2019

Dieter Bohn makes his case for why Apple should go all-in on Marzipan.

I want Apple to force itself to be like, okay, the iPad version of Mail is the only version of Mail that Mac users inside Apple get to use, and if they don't like it, they have to fix it.

I think they should do the same for as many apps as they can stomach, because if they don't, everyone's just gonna use the regular Mac apps that they've had before.

I mean, ask Microsoft how keeping the Windows classic version of Office around, when they're trying to change apps over to Windows 8 and Windows 10, went. It didn't go well.

I have been very vocal about why I think UIKit coming to the Mac is something to be excited about. There is so much potential in unifying the software ecosystem across Apple's platforms, but to do it right you can't stay on the fence like Microsoft did. For this to work, you need to own it, and you need to make it so good that it's hard to imagine wanting to use or write any other kind of software. That is how iOS makes me feel, and that is how the Mac should make iOS users feel.

I really hope that Apple finally deciding to do Marzipan, now, after a decade of iOS being Apple's dominant platform, means that Apple is no longer on the fence about the Mac vs iOS divide, and has made the tough decisions about how to chart its course for the future of the Mac and the desktop.

If what Apple provides next week at WWDC to bring UIKit apps to the Mac isn't good enough, we need to let them know so they can fix it. This year is only step two in a multi-year transition that will inevitably leave us running Universal iOS/Mac apps on ARM Macs, and there is plenty of time to fix things that aren't up to the standard we expect from Mac apps, and the Mac as a platform. Prepare your Radars! This must be an all-hands-on-deck moment for Apple.

I really don't think there will be a viable future for the Mac if Marzipan falls flat on its face. Apple's dominant ecosystem is iOS — that ship has sailed. No new UI framework or declarative layer on top is going to change the arithmetic; any new app framework for the Mac will by definition have to be shared across iOS and Mac, or we'll be right back where we started. By the time we've got to that point, there may not be any native desktop apps left, and iOS will still be accelerating into the future with new form-factors, augmented reality or whatever comes next. Even native app development titans like Adobe have a version of Photoshop in development for WebAssembly, and it's hard to not see the appeal for developers. The web is amazing; WebGL and WebAssembly will enable all kinds of powerful new platforms.

Steve Jobs building analogy

However, I truly believe that Apple provides the best native development frameworks in the world, which is why its platforms have many of the highest quality consumer apps in the world: when Steve Jobs would explain the NeXT, later Cocoa, frameworks in a presentation, he used a building analogy that I love so much — when developers write apps on a platform, they build upon the foundation laid beneath them, and NeXT's frameworks were so powerful that it was like starting on the twentieth floor of a building, and building upwards.

If you as a developer were only ever going to build three floors worth of a great app, starting from that twentieth floor you'd end up with a twenty-three-floor building; on other OSes, where you have to reinvent the wheel every time for new apps, and start at a lower floor (the fifth floor was where the classic Mac OS started you, in Steve's analogy), your three storey app wouldn't even reach as high as the starting point for a NeXT app.

That NeXT competitive advantage became Apple's competitive advantage, and, later, iPhone's competitive advantage. This is the competitive advantage a native platform from Apple has over the web; it would be such a shame to half-ass this transition to Marzipan and concede defeat to web apps on the desktop instead of letting native apps reach the heights they deserve. And still, dividing Apple's attention between not one but two native app frameworks, each tens of floors tall, will always be a major constraint; I want to see what Apple can really do.

Will this transition be painful for Apple? Yes. But I think it'll be worth it