News, Voice Memos, Home, and Stocks to get a design refresh in macOS Catalina

Apple’s first home-grown Catalyst apps weren’t well-received, but they’ll feel more like Mac apps this fall.

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According to an interview with Apple Senior VP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi conducted by Cnet at WWDC, the first four Catalyst apps introduced to macOS last year are in for a design refresh.

Apple first demonstrated its technology to help bring iPad apps to the Mac—then called Marzipan—with macOS Mojave. When the OS shipped last fall, it included four new apps built using UIKit, the framework that developers use to build iPhone and iPad apps: News, Home, Voice Memos, and Stocks. They were not well-received by Mac fans.

At WWDC this year, Apple introduced some new apps for mac OS Catalina, due for release later this year. Music, TV, Podcasts, Screen Time, and Find My are all new, and feature much better design than the foursome of apps introduced last year. Apple called out substantial updates to a number of other Mac apps, including Reminders, Notes, and Mail, but made no mention of the Catalyst apps introduced last year.

Fortunately, Federighi says that updates are on the way. 

“They’re getting improvements,” Federighi said. “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.

Some have speculated that the poor design of those four apps is a natural consequence of the UIKit frameworks used, and a disappointing sign of what we can expect from third-party apps that use Catalyst to make the leap from iPad to Mac. According to Federighi, that’s not so:

“When I read some of the initial reviews of those apps, people were saying, ‘Obviously this technology is causing them to do things that don’t feel Mac-like.’ Honestly, 90% of those were just decisions that designers made ... People took that as ‘this feels iOS-y’ and therefore they thought it was a technology thing. Actually, it was a designer preference. So part of [the upgrade] is we said we’ve got to co-evolve with our user base around the aesthetics of the Mac experience. And so we made some adjustments to the apps.”

We don’t yet know what these new apps will look like in macOS Catalina, as the developer beta still features the old app design. Cnet quotes Federighi as saying, “Wait for the public beta. We’re still tuning everything up. That’s where it gets really good.”

The macOS Catalina public beta is expected this summer. 

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