The Shape of Everything
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December 21, 2017

Bloomberg: Apple Plans Combined iPhone, iPad & Mac Apps to Create One User Experience.

I have thoughts and feelings about this report by Mark Gurman. From the article:

"The same approach hasn’t worked nearly as well on Apple’s desktops and laptops. The Mac App Store is a ghost town of limited selection and rarely updated programs. Now Apple plans to change that by giving people a way to use a single set of apps that work equally well across its family of devices: iPhones, iPads and Macs."

I find myself upset about the App Store quite often, but I think calling it a ghost town is a bit much. Does it have all the best apps available? No, it does not. Does it have frequently updated and exclusive apps of its own? Yes, it does.

What’s more, Apple customers have long complained that some Mac apps get short shrift. For example, while the iPhone and iPad Twitter app is regularly updated with the social network’s latest features, the Mac version hasn’t been refreshed recently and is widely considered substandard. With a single app for all machines, Mac, iPad and iPhone users will get new features and updates at the same time.

There's an easy solution for updating the Mac version of Twitter to have the same features as its iOS peers. Twitter has to care enough to update it. That's it. It's not as if there needs to be massive engineering efforts put behind it. It's not as if the road hasn't already been explored and the server APIs already exposed (which they must have done for the iOS version). They just need to put some effort and care to it. Tweetie for the Mac, which Twitter for the Mac is based on, was built from the ground up by a single person. All Twitter had to to was maintain it. And Twitter, Inc. couldn't be bothered.

And we see the same behavior from other vendors happening on the iPad where a shared framework already exists (Instagram being the prime example). The opening line of that paragraph could easily have been written as "What's more, Apple customers have long complained that some iPad apps get short shrift".

"The plans are still fluid, the people said, so the implementation could change or the project could still be canceled."

I hate lines like this, as it gives complete cover for the reporter if nothing described ever comes to pass.

"It’s unclear if Apple plans to merge the separate Mac and iOS App Stores as well, but it is notable that the version of the store running on iPhones and iPads was redesigned this year while the Mac version has not been refreshed since 2014."

Again, someone has to care. In this case it's Apple. The Mac App Store hasn't been refreshed since 2014 because Apple doesn't see it as a priority. So we get broken APIs for developers, no gifting, no video previews for the platform where Quicktime was invented.

How a shared UI framework is going to make big companies somehow care is beyond me. This mysterious new framework isn't going to magically give iOS the ability to use mouse input, or let all Macs gain touch input via the screen. Work will still need to be done making the UIs work properly on their respective platforms. And someone's going to need to care enough to make that happen.

"Several years ago, the company began designing its own processors for iOS devices. It has started doing the same for the Mac, recently launching a T2 chip in the iMac Pro that offloads features like security and power management from the main Intel processor onto Apple-designed silicon. Much the way Apple plans to unify apps, it could also one day use the same main processor on Macs and iOS devices."

The dream for Macs running on an A-series chip from Apple will never die (I for one, would welcome this, assuming performance would be acceptable).

I feel like this article from Gurman could have been reduced down to: "We think Apple might some day have a shared UI framework for iOS and MacOS. Apple could even create some sort of cross store bundling or a single store with a single binary for all platforms when using this framework (even though there's nothing stopping Apple from doing this today). That sounds neat and wouldn't it be cool if all platforms also used the same processor to boot? This may or may not happen starting next year, and it could very likely be canceled as well. Apple declined to comment on our sensational story."

What about the crux of the article, that Apple is working on a shared UI framework between iOS and MacOS? I wouldn't find it surprising. I could also see it being written completely in Swift (though personally I'd rather it be in Obj-C for maximum interop with existing frameworks).

But history is filled with cross platform UIs and write once run anywhere dreams. None of them turned out insanely great.

I think cross platform UI classes like MTKView (which inherits from NSView or UIView depending on the platform you're on) is a great idea, and a great way to share common code. I'm not sure that sharing a single hierarchy of classes across the platform is going to go the way folks think it will.