Messages and Maps: Two apps we wish Apple would port from iOS to Mac

The Mac versions of these apps are way behind their iOS counterparts. Catalyst could help fix that.

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With macOS Catalina, Apple is providing a tool for developers (called Catalyst) that makes it really easy to take an existing iPad app over to the Mac. Apple started testing the technology in macOS Mojave last year, by porting over some of its own iOS apps—News, Home, Voice Memos, and Stocks.

This year, Apple expands its list of iOS apps on Mac with Music, Podcasts, TV, Screen Time, and the new Find My app. Those first four apps introduced last year are getting an upgrade, too.

While these are welcome changes, I can’t help but think Apple is missing a huge opportunity. Two of macOS’s most important apps—Maps and Messages—are so far behind their iOS counterparts that we would all be better-served by Apple just porting the iOS app in the same fashion.

macOS Messages is barebones

While Apple has done a good job of syncing messages between the Mac and iOS, the experience of creating new messages on macOS is a skimpy shell of the iOS experience. You don’t get integrated GIF search, stickers, Animoji and Memoji, nor any of the add-on iMessage apps. If you want to send money with Apple Pay through Messages, you can use your iPhone, iPad, or even your Apple Watch...but not your Mac.

The new features of Messages in iOS 13, like the the excellent new real-time search and Memoji-based emoji stickers, widen the gap even further.

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On iOS you get GIFs, Apple Pay, Animoji, Memoji, Photos, Digital Touch, and more. On macOS (top) you get... emoji.

Some functions exist on both platforms, but are much easier on iOS. For example, you can send a photo on iOS by tapping the Photos app icon. On a Mac, you have to open the Photos app and copy/paste or drag the image you want in there.

Of course, some iOS Messages features probably wouldn’t be able to make the jump to Mac—at least not right away. Those iMessage apps are not really a feature of the Mac App Store, and even with Catalyst it’s not really clear if the right hooks exist to allow apps to integrate with Messages.

Similarly, Animoji and Memoji would be abbreviated on the Mac. With no TrueDepth sensor available, you wouldn’t be able to send animated messages with them. But, the new emoji stickers using your own Memoji character could easily sync over the cloud from iOS to Mac. And there’s no reason the Mac can’t be used to create and edit a Memoji, just as iPhones that don’t have TrueDepth sensors will be able to with iOS 13.

Maps feels old and clunky

Maps on macOS isn’t as far behind as Messages is. You get nearly all the features of the iOS 12 version. It’s the interface that feels old and clunky, as if it sprung out of a five-year old time capsule. It’s all popup cards and large, colorless, wide text-labeled buttons instead of icons and sidebars. At least it pulls from the same dataset as the iOS app, so it will show the improved map detail as it rolls out this year.

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Maps on macOS (right) uses the same data as on iOS (left), but the design feels lost in time.

And iOS 13 adds significant new Maps features that you won’t find on macOS Catalina. There are no Collections, no real-time flight and transit info, and the hot new Look Around feature is M.I.A.

The new Share ETA feature isn’t there either, but that’s a function of real-time navigation, which is (rightly) only on the mobile platforms.

Software that’s stuck in the past

Messages and Maps on macOS feel like a relic of Apple before it tried to bring iOS and macOS closer together. They feel almost obligatory, while the iPhone versions feel like labors of love. Apple was smart to recognize that iTunes had become an unwelcome relic and to break it up into Music, Podcasts, and TV apps that bring more of the modern design and functionality of iOS to the Mac.

It’s time to do the same with Maps and Messages. Ideally, these apps would look, feel, and function as much like their iOS counterparts as possible, with obvious desktop-style interface conventions in place (sidebars, title bars, menu bars, keyboard shortcuts, scroll bars where appropriate, and so on).

The iOS versions of these apps are so far ahead of their macOS counterparts that it would benefit all of us if Apple simple ported them over. In addition, maintaining a single app version for all platforms helps ensure that the Mac and iPhone stay in lockstep over the following years, with features and design changes coming to both platforms at once.

Apple hasn’t given any indication that either of these apps are getting the Catalyst treatment in macOS Catalina, but with any luck, it’s already in the works and we won’t have to wait until next fall’s macOS update to get them.

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