Despite Apple’s on-stage announcement of macOS Catalina earlier this month, it seems that we’re not yet done hearing about more improvements that the company is working on as it moves toward the unification of apps for its iOS and macOS operating systems.
We first heard about Apple’s ambitions to bring iPad apps to the Mac about two years ago, as part of a project originally code-named Marzipan. Apple followed up not long after with its first attempt at porting over some of its own iOS apps in last year’s macOS Mojave, including Home, News, Stocks, and Voice Memos.
Sadly, however, these apps didn’t really make a good case for iPad apps running on a Mac, since they retained far too much of their iPad design, making them a poor fit in a keyboard-and-mouse environment. They also didn’t really match the macOS aesthetic. Many experienced Mac users and Apple commentators described them as ranging from “not great and a little weird” to “downright terrible.” The general consensus was that if these apps were an indication of things to come with Marzipan, the Mac’s future was beginning to look slightly uncomfortable and even a bit terrifying — especially when reports earlier this year suggested that iTunes would be getting a similar treatment.
Enter Project Catalyst…
Fortunately, while it may have been ill-advised for Apple to make an attempt like this so early in the game, the company has learned from these experiences, and the final iteration of Marzipan, now known as Project Catalyst, promises to allow for iPad apps to be ported over to macOS with an experience that will feel much more at home on the Mac — and Apple will be starting by using the new framework to deal properly with those first four big missteps.
Speaking with CNET, Apple Senior VP Craig Federighi says that Apple is already working on refreshed versions of all four apps that will be ready when the first Catalina public beta arrives early next month. Federighi promises that all of them will get major updates using the new technology in Project Catalyst, and feature new designs that will make them fit in much better on macOS.
They’re getting improvements. The underlying technology has matured…Some of that is super low-level stuff. Some people have dissected those apps and realized that they were sort of two halves: an AppKit half and a UIKit half, literally running in different processes. That’s all unified now. This has become much more of a native Mac framework…So automatically, the apps we built last year are upgraded.Craig Federighi, Apple Senior VP of Software Engineering
Federighi actually went on to note that the problem with the original apps wasn’t even Marzipan, per se, but rather just a series of bad decisions that app designers made when porting the apps over. While many blamed the technology itself for “causing them to do things that don’t feel Mac-like,” Federighi added that “90% of those were just decisions that designers made” — and they were obviously pretty bad ones.
While Federighi didn’t offer any insight on which design teams Apple had originally assigned to these apps last year, Federighi made it clear that it was “designer preference” that steered the results, and that the teams will now be focusing more on the “aesthetics of the Mac experience” going forward.
Of the four apps, Apple News is perhaps the one that suffered the most from Apple’s shortsightedness in lazily porting it over from iOS. While the Apple News app isn’t without its problems on iOS — especially for News+ subscribers — it was still a pretty robust user experience compared to the Mac version, which is generally a complete mess. With Apple now trying to get users to pay $9.99/month for a premium version of Apple News, it’s a safe bet that this is the app that’s going to be most in need of a facelift in Catalina that hopefully goes beyond simple design fixes.
What We Can Look Forward To
Despite the original “Marzipan Four” eliciting fears that iTunes would be dumbed-down in favour of something more akin to the iPad Music app, what we’ve actually seen in the new Catalina Music app is staggeringly impressive — it’s basically iTunes by another name, and not at all the lobotomized Apple Music front-end that a great many had feared it would become.
This alone should offer solid hope that Apple’s design teams have found their footing and will now be able too give a similar treatment to Apple News, Stocks, Home, and Voice Memos. While it’s unclear exactly how much of a departure these apps will be from their iPad counterparts, if Music, TV, and Podcasts are any indication, the focus will be more on making them look right on the Mac than providing visual continuity with the iOS versions.
Either way, we won’t have long to wait. If past years are any indication, we should see the initial public beta of Catalina land in the first part of July, which Federighi has promised will include the new collection of apps.