New Chameleon project helps developers port iOS apps to the Mac

The Iconfactory on Tuesday unveiled its new Chameleon project, which aims to provide an open-source framework for developers to easily port iOS apps to the Mac.

Though the Iconactory is well known for a variety of popular and consumer-friendly Mac and iOS apps, including TwitterrificRamp ChampFrenzic, and Astronut, Chameleon targets developers. The company describes the project as “a clean room implementation of the work done by Apple for iOS.” The idea is simple: iOS developers can take code written for Apple’s UIKit framework and, with relatively minimal effort, get that code to run on the Mac instead.

In fact, the company says that its recent update of Twitterific for Mac is actually built atop the Chameleon framework. Since Chameleon doesn’t use any private APIs and depends only upon open Apple documentation, it doesn’t violate any rules that would block dependent apps from the Mac App Store (indeed, you can purchase Twitterrific from the Mac App Store today).

By creating Chameleon, Iconfactory was able to reuse more than 90 percent of its iOS codebase for Twitterrific in the new Mac version. They’re not alone, either: Developer Steve Troughton-Smith posted on Twitter that he was able to port his iPhone app SameGame to the Mac with Chameleon in just a “couple hours” after the announcement of the framework.

While some wonder whether Apple might create a similar framework on its own, the Iconfactory developers currently don’t expect Cupertino to do so, stating explicitly that the Iconfactory “value[s] our relationship with Apple and will shut down this project” if Apple requests it do so.

Chameleon could have a positive impact on the Mac by helping iOS developers, who came to develop for the iPhone and iPad because of the immense popularity of the devices, expand to Apple’s other platforms. With Chameleon, we may see those developers (and others) create new, iOS-ified Mac software that would otherwise never have seen the light of the desktop. Developers who've tasted success on the App Store may well be itching to give the Mac App Store a spin, and the Chameleon framework could give them an easy way to get started.

To support the open-source project, the Iconfactory is selling $250 t-shirts—and that’s not a typo. The idea is more to invest in supporting the new framework than to get a cheap new shirt to wear. The t-shirt offer runs through April 20.

The source code for Chameleon is available on GitHub.

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