macOS: Apple WWDC19 wish list

Apple’s focus on the Mac could be a big part of WWDC19.

2019 imac family
Apple

We’re only a few days out from Apple’s 2019 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) now, and that means we’re about to exit an Apple world dominated by talk of iOS 12 and macOS Mojave, and enter one focused on the next versions of both. Last week I detailed my dreams for iOS 13. Now it’s the Mac’s turn.

Marzipan done right

wwdc 2018 ios mac apps icons IDG

Project Marzipan, which Apple talked about at last year's WWDC, will be the highlight of this year's conference.

I would wager that at this year’s WWDC, Apple will spend more time focusing on macOS than at any point this decade. But for those who see WWDC as a battle between the Mac and iOS for Apple’s attention, it’s going to feel a little bittersweet. The renewed focus on the Mac side will in large part be about Apple giving iOS app developers the ability to quickly bring their apps to the Mac. This system—which Apple didn’t name when it provided a “sneak peek” at its plans last year—is generally referred to in the press as “Marzipan,” after a code name reported by Mark Gurman of Bloomberg early last year.

Whatever Apple ends up calling it (if it even gives it a formal name, rather than just calling it “UIKit on macOS”), it’s going to be the center of attention at WWDC. Here are the core questions.

  • How easy will it be to make Marzipan apps? The bulk of WWDC attendees are iOS developers. I’m sure many of them will be intrigued about reaching Mac users with their apps. I expect that on stage, Apple will show off just how easy it can be to bring iOS apps to macOS. The devil will be in the details—which probably will be found in later sessions at the conference. With any luck, Apple will provide tools to make it easy for app developers to enhance their apps so that they don’t feel like iOS apps plopped onto macOS, but like real, native Mac apps. I’d love to see an iOS app demo in the keynote that shows off just how good Marzipan apps look on macOS, along with a testimonial about how little work it was to make the switch.

  • How much access will “classic” Mac apps have to new features of macOS? The flip side of bringing iOS technologies and apps to the Mac is that there are a bunch of existing apps that aren’t built with those technologies that Mac users rely on. Will the developers of those apps be able to make some modifications this summer that will allow them to also take advantage of new technologies? Here’s an example: There’s a rumor that Apple will add Siri Shortcuts to macOS. I assume that Marzipan apps will be able to tie into that technology, as they do on iOS. But what about existing Mac apps? If they’re boxed out of technologies like this, creating a schism between two different generations of Mac apps, that will be painful for the users of those apps.

  • How weird will Marzipan apps be for users? This is the big one, and while we’ll have some clues next week, it may take until the fall (and the release of the first Marzipan apps) until we really know. It’s almost certainly true that, with the influx of iOS apps to the Mac, how we judge an app as being “Mac-like” is about to change. But that said, consistency is important. Users don’t care even a little bit about what development APIs were used to build their apps—but if Mac App A looks and behaves completely differently from Mac App B, that’s bad. Mac apps have all sorts of features that either don’t exist on iOS or aren’t prioritized by it—menu bar, keyboard shortcuts, and multiple windows, to name three. How seamless a transition will this be?

Sync up with iOS

Beyond the details of Marzipan itself, this is an opportunity for Apple to find more unity between iOS and macOS. I’m not saying that the two platforms need to look alike and behave in the same ways—though a little more synergy between iPad and Mac would be appreciated—but there are still a bunch of little areas that differ in ways that seem unnecessary.

ios12 screen time report Apple

Screen Time for iOS debuted last year. Could a Mac version be in the works?

Last year Apple added Screen Time to iOS, and while I’m hoping it will be improved this year, it was a good start. Parental control features on macOS, on the other hand, are fairly rudimentary and entirely disconnected from Screen Time. As a parent with kids who have both iOS and macOS devices, I would really prefer to manage them all together.

Messages is an app that has lagged behind its iOS counterpart for ages, probably owing to its much older code base—remember iChat? If Marzipan is the method Apple chooses to use to let me send messages with iMessage effects or Memoji stickers, bring it on. I’m tired of having to mentally map out what behavior I’m allowed on the Mac and what I’m allowed on iOS.

There are still a few places where macOS and iOS terminology still diverges. The System Preferences app, for example, should just be renamed Settings. I’m sure there are many other terminology examples. The app platforms are coming together—let’s take this as an opportunity to get the rest of this stuff in agreement.

Boost the Mac App Store

Last year Apple unveiled a redesign of the Mac App Store and touted the return of some key developers to the store. Behind the scenes, the company has added a bunch of new technology that allows App Store apps to ask for more power than they were previously allowed to wield. I want to see Apple make more progress in this direction, so that the Mac App Store becomes a place that makes sense for the developers of all Mac software, rather than a home for a few utilities and a flood of apps brought over from iOS.

macos mojave mac app stor Apple

We could see more changes to the Mac App Store in the next macOS.

Beyond this, I want to see more evidence that Apple is going to provide more security for apps that are outside the App Store. Last year it introduced the concept of notarized apps, which allows Apple to verify non-App Store apps—and kill them if they’re discovered to be malware. While the idea of Apple forcing the Free Folk beyond the magical ice wall of the App Store into bending the knee makes a lot of people uneasy, I prefer to view this as Apple making an effort to make the Mac more secure while not insisting that every Mac app originate in the Mac App Store. Nobody wants to see the future of the Mac to be a completely locked down, App Store-only platform. If Apple’s still investing in alternative technologies like notarization, that bleak future is less likely.

Putting the “wish” in wish list

There are always those features I hold in my heart, wishing they’d exist when I know that there’s almost no chance that Apple thinks they’re a priority. But I will cheer if they’re announced next week.

We’ve had cellular-capable iOS devices for more than a decade, but Apple has never released a cellular-capable Mac laptop. Part of the reason for that is the system’s general ignorance of what kind of network connection it’s using. Apple could make some changes in macOS to provide more clarity about what data is going over Wi-Fi or ethernet and what’s going over a cellular network, and let users determine which apps get access to cellular data. And nothing will drive adoption of those features faster than the release of cellular-capable MacBook hardware.

mac os mojave automator icon Apple

Will the Mac's Automator be replaced by a Mac version of the iOS Shortcuts app?

I’m also an advocate of user automation—I believe that computers are there to do the boring, repetitive tasks that humans don’t need to waste their time doing. Right now macOS and iOS have completely different approaches to automation—on macOS it’s a combination of AppleScript, Automator, and shell scripting—and on iOS it’s the Shortcuts app. I’m not going to kid myself that AppleScript or Automator will ever be dramatically revamped and spread to iOS, but I’d like to believe that Apple could bring Shortcuts to the Mac and use it as a way of unifying user automation between old and new Mac apps. At this point, I really don’t care what the way forward is for providing modern user automation on macOS and iOS—so long as there is one, and it’s unified, and that Apple is committed to it into the future.

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