Under the Radar

Under the Radar 111: Universal Mac Apps?


  welcome to under the radar a show about

  independent iOS app development I'm

  Marco Arment and I'm David Smith under

  the radar is never longer than 30

  minutes so let's get started so before

  we dive into our actual main topic for

  today I just wanted to have a brief

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  some comments yeah anyway so our main

  topic today is we're going to talk

  through this week there was a article

  published on Bloomberg by mark Berman

  which is you know the way many of these

  Apple news things start and basically he

  has a tip a lead a rumor that Apple is

  working on a secret project codenamed

  marzipan which is a a a project to

  create a unified system for iOS and Mac


  run together and this is something that

  we've talked about I was looking up and

  we way back in the early days of the

  show even we were talking about some of

  the challenges of being Iowa's

  developers and coming to the Mac and you

  know wishing for there to be an easier

  path and so you know if this actually is

  a thing

  which in a certain sense like whenever I

  saw this it's like it seems eventually

  this was going to happen you know to use

  the infinite time scale argument like

  this was somewhat inevitable that

  eventually Apple was going to

  consolidate their platforms and if you

  know the rumors true and they're going

  to be doing it in you know next summer

  probably would be their goal you know

  with WDC iOS 12 on the next version of

  Mac OS like it's going to be if that's

  actually true like this is a really

  interesting thing and I think it will

  create a lot of interesting

  opportunities for you know for

  development I think it would be really

  interesting from a learning like the

  abilities that you get from learning how

  to make Apple apps that suddenly you can

  make them on multiple platforms and

  distribute them in potentially in

  different ways I think there's a lot of

  implications potentially on the business

  side and is probably mixed news for

  existing Mac developers that suddenly

  you know being a all the skills and

  Deveaux things that you have from being

  a Mac developer maybe slightly less

  significant or unique so anyway it

  seemed like an interesting thing to kind

  of unpack given you know given our

  history with this topic and you know

  there's a huge disclaimer that this is

  just a rumor published in one article

  literally today as we record like an

  hour so so this is not only like you

  know unabashedly our hot take on it and

  we haven't had a whole lot of time to

  think about it and we have no no

  additional information but also it's

  simply one article from mark ermine and

  his track record has been okay but not

  perfect so especially you know recently

  it seems like it's kind of getting worse

  honestly but you know so take this all

  with a grain of salt this is a rumor

  this is not fact this has not been

  confirmed or commented on by Apple and

  probably won't be for some time if ever

  so all that said I am soup

  excited about this so like to me you

  know I'm an iOS developer I happen to

  have made a couple of little mac apps

  but it was like pulling teeth because I

  am NOT an app kit expert

  I am NOT a Mac development expert even

  though I have used the Mac for a very

  long time I have not developed for it

  really and in any serious capacity ever

  I've done little toy things but that's

  that's about it so for me when I program

  on the Mac it feels first of all feels

  very antiquated and in some ways not

  everything but in some ways because app

  kit is a much older API than UI kit it

  has a lot more back Zhu Ike it was

  created in part from the lessons they

  learned from app kit like ten years

  earlier or whatever it was so you know

  app kit is very very cumbersome for me

  as an iOS developer to use because it's

  I take this thing but that I'm familiar

  with and change a lot of how it works

  add a whole bunch of stuff you have to

  deal with make a lot of stuff different

  for no good reason by modern standards

  like maybe it was that way for some time

  or forever ago but you know now it's

  like if you look at what the needs are

  now for these platforms like a lot of

  things are just different for for no

  good reason anymore or for legacy

  reasons that that no longer apply or

  shouldn't need to apply and so ab kit

  development is very slow very cumbersome

  for iOS developers and because of that

  it's also just expensive you know and in

  the time the time it takes and the

  resources it takes if you have to hire

  Mac programmers there are way fewer of

  them than there are I Oh s programmers

  so it's it's probably more expensive for

  big companies as well and the Mac user

  base is smaller than the iOS user base

  by a good amount and so the result of

  this has been so far that iOS developers

  big and small which basically means all

  app developers these days like pretty

  much every major business and service

  has iOS apps almost every major

  developer either days either ignores the

  Mac completely as a platform for their

  or service or they treat it as a

  second-class citizen because it has

  smaller numbers of people and it's way

  harder and more expensive for most

  people to develop for so this is a

  problem so even if you ignore the

  technical arguments even if fans of apke

  can tell us why it's better in certain

  ways which it is or why it's more

  advanced in a lot of ways which it is or

  why things are done this way for good

  reasons which they are all of that is

  secondary to this massive economics

  problem of there's tons of people

  writing iOS code and who can write iOS

  code it's like this massive like

  universal language now for mobile apps

  because of the market realities of these

  platforms so like every business is

  writing iOS apps but the Mac is like you

  know if we get to it maybe someday or if

  you write a Mac app it's maybe an

  electron app or some other kind of you

  know wrapper or you're like

  cross-platform language where you're

  really just writing like JavaScript or

  web code or something like that and it's

  being run in in WebKit on a Mac which is

  fine you know like big apps like slack

  are done that way it's fine but it's not

  good and there's lots of major downsides

  to that kind of app like especially like

  memory usage and performance stuff like

  that native integration type stuff so

  that's not a great situation to be in

  and also just a lot of apps just don't

  have native apps in the math they just

  use websites it's like all right well

  you can log in to our website and do

  this and I'm just I am a huge example of

  this in my own head obviously you know

  this is exactly how overcast works like

  I don't have a Mac app I have considered

  making a Mac app before there are a

  couple of podcast apps that that have

  made Mac apps and usually they have

  killed them you just like the the other

  indie podcast apps that made Mac

  versions seem to like stop development

  afterwards like it seemed like they just

  like that was too much of a burden and

  it just you know was the last nail in

  the coffin or something and I'm afraid

  of that happening to me if I if I would

  do the same thing because it's a totally

  different platform like if I were to if

  I were to try to port overcast to Mac

  today I could I could very easily just

  copy over and use the core library

  functions of things like the database

  the sync engine and most or all of the

  audio engine because like all those

  low-level frameworks have been unified

  for the most part with not a lot of

  exceptions at least in the way I'm using

  them but the UI would have to be

  completely rewritten from scratch and

  you could make an argument and many

  people have that you should write custom

  UIs from scratch for a completely

  different new platform than than what

  you've written before because and in an

  ideal world that's true in an ideal

  world yes I would write a whole custom

  Mac UI because the Mac is not iOS you

  know controlled controls are totally

  different the environments totally

  different windowing is totally different

  like there's all sorts of major platform

  differences between the two that you

  shouldn't just like be running an iOS

  app in a window on the Mac like that's

  that's not a great way to do this but

  the reality is because developing on the

  Mac is such a huge investment for for an

  established iOS developer and because

  there are way more of us than Mac

  developers and and that's probably going

  to continue to go that direction because

  of this of these economic differences

  the reality is not that we are choosing

  between having good Mac apps and having

  some kind of cross-platform thing the

  reality is that we're choosing between

  having the cross-platform thing or no

  Mac apps and it's not to say that the

  entire Mac App Market will go a way that

  exists today we don't know what this is

  this could be just another option this

  could be like another framework you can

  use you know a platform that you can use

  to develop Mac apps with it as an

  alternative to advocate that's how I

  would guess they would do it because

  Apple has a whole bunch of app kit code

  themselves they're not gonna get rid of

  that kid so I think the existing like

  Mac market is fine and they would be

  totally you know totally totally fine to

  keep going in that way I don't think

  this is a threat to them in this short

  term in the long term it probably is but

  I think in the long term it's very clear

  that Apple has not been moving app kit

  forward very aggressively they have not

  been investing heavily into it

  just like the rest of the Mac basically

  and I think the biggest threat honestly

  probably to Mac developers is just the

  devaluing in some ways of their unique

  skill like it reminds me of people who

  were say Fortran developers or COBOL

  developers right like if you have this

  very distinctive skill that if you are a

  app kit genius like that is a unique

  marketable valuable thing right now that

  if a company decides they want a Mac app

  there's not as many people who can do an

  exceptional job of that and in a weird

  way that meat might be slightly devalued

  by this just in the sense that if it's

  now it's something that is possible for

  a broader range of people you know to do

  but I mean the thing is like it's it's a

  weird thing when you start to get into

  like well these apps won't be as good

  potentially which is I think a common

  reaction to this kind of thing it's like

  well they're you know people are just

  gonna make blown up iPhone apps maybe

  that's true

  I mean in many ways it makes me think of

  the iPad though where I think for years

  the iPad and the way that it was sort of

  technically structured was that while it

  was still UIKit under you know in terms

  of the libraries you were using you know

  you the way that you were encouraged to

  develop an iPad app was that it was a

  completely separate sort of visual fork

  in your application that you would you

  know you would launch into your I've had

  app or we would launch into your iPhone

  app and then with the size classing

  changes and the introduction of the

  slide over and thus you know the one

  quarter with ipad apps and all these

  things that largely went away I think

  they there was the encouragement started

  to become that it's it's like being a an

  adaptable iPhone app is good enough and

  is probably sufficient for most

  situations and may not be optimized that

  when you are running that app on you

  know a big on the biggest where for the

  12 inch iPad pro like it's not going to

  be ideal potentially but it works and it

  will be there and it's certainly better

  than just having the like the 2x iPhone

  blow-up version which was what you know

  the situation we found ourselves in

  before and I expect we would have a

  similar thing

  moving to the Mac where you know most if

  you if your app has an iPad app imagine

  running that iPad app on a Mac and you

  are probably pretty close to something

  that is very usable workable like would

  feel not and it may not feel native in

  the sense of what we consider native now

  but the reality is from probably for an

  increasing number of people what feel is

  native and natural is iOS and the Mac is

  the foreign thing and it could even be

  reassuring and encouraging to somebody

  who comes to you know if they come to

  the Mac and the Mac feels like iOS like

  the thing they know that may actually be

  a positive rather than a negative for

  them and so I think the like dismissing

  this in any way for like it's like oh

  it's going to lead to these kind of you

  know these shovel where you know I

  iPhone apps they're just gonna be blown

  up onto the screen or you know running

  in teeny little windows it's like maybe

  but like having something like if

  suddenly they're now being a million new

  apps available for the Mac like that

  would be awesome

  that would be I think like there's no

  world in which that's a bad thing

  I don't think like having that

  opportunity like I like that as

  something you know maybe they won't work

  wonderfully maybe it's not perfect but

  it's not like the Mac is this

  flourishing ecosystem that is you know

  is continuing to grow and develop and

  attract new developers you know had you

  know in droves it's like no it's not and

  that it's like I think this is a it's

  easy to perhaps get stuck on the ideal

  sense of what pop you could imagine

  versus the pragmatic reality of if Apple

  went down this road if they made it

  really easy for iOS developers to

  essentially just add like you know this

  app can run on the Mac and when it's in

  the Mac it has maybe a slightly

  different size class but otherwise like

  it's pretty much just the same like

  that's pretty cool to me like I'm on

  board with that I think that would be

  really interesting and overall like it

  just creates so much more opportunity

  and it creates such a value an increased

  value in learning how to make Iowa you

  know iOS apps or UI kid or whatever the

  new thing is it's like the that that all

  that skill and development that we've

  developed now suddenly becomes that much

  more valuable and interesting we respond

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  show so you mentioned a minute ago the

  the idea of being ideal versus pragmatic

  and I think this is this is the overall

  theme of this of this kind of concept

  like assuming this is real or or you

  know if this happens real versus

  pragmatic is a is an argument that a lot

  of people have trouble with because a

  lot like it's it seems unfair or unjust

  or non-ideal to two especially for

  people who really care a lot which is

  pretty pretty common in the Mac fan

  community because that's the kind of

  people who historically have loved Apple

  products cuz Apple really cared a lot

  but it's it's very common like mental

  friction ticket over that like sometimes

  the best solution is actually the most

  pragmatic one which might not be the the

  the like you know

  objectively like best quality one or the

  one that you want or the one that you

  think should be like everyone article

  forever ago my blog called right versus

  pragmatic that was actually about

  bathroom trashcan placement but but this

  is you know it's a similar argument

  which is like you can make a good

  argument that what should happen is

  everyone who wants to make a mac app

  should do it like the most like native

  original old-school way which is app kit

  sorry classic my people that's I know

  this is not old-school to you but you

  know app kit is old-school these days

  and and you can make a great argument

  that all Mac apps should be app kit and

  should be fully native and should be

  designed from scratch for the Mac with

  the Mac in mind and you're right that

  should be the case but the reality is

  different the reality is that the Mac is

  a neglected platform by a lot of people

  these days including on many levels

  Apple you know Apple is not able to keep

  up with their own apps doing very well

  on the Mac anymore you know Apple

  versions of of their cross-platform apps

  the Mac versions like photos usually

  have fewer features or you know or like

  no it's like these are fewer features or

  they have more bugs or you know or they

  don't even really take advantage fully

  of the Mac itself or they're just kind

  of weird designs that never get touched

  like reminders and so even Apple can't

  keep up with their own apps their own

  first party apps on this platform even

  they are having trouble maintaining

  these two different platforms and

  justifying the effort it takes to to you

  know move the Mac forward meaningfully

  so if they're if are only you know the

  the ideal choice is everyone should

  invest infinitely into the Mac until

  everything can be great but that isn't

  one of our choices in reality in reality

  our choices are well here's how people

  actually work here's the actual

  economics actual trade-offs that are

  involved here and so our actual choice

  is between moving the direction like

  this rumor which is a more unified UI

  framework more unified app platform

  between Mac and iOS or having the Mac

  continue to languish having a lot more

  apps switch to like you know the WebKit

  electron kind of style where everything

  is non native anyway and bad

  performing and a huge ram hog which

  makes your max suck more like that's the

  alternative here it's it's not the

  alternative is not that we're gonna you

  know educate the world into using app

  kit that's not that ship has sailed

  that's not going to happen so if these

  are our options which newsflash they are

  I'd rather have the option that gives us

  more Mac apps than the option that gives

  us fewer crappier ones and I think -

  it's also this creates so many

  interesting possibilities like the in

  some of them are kind of tangential but

  like for me I'm kind of excited about

  the positive being able to ship iOS apps

  without needing a sandbox or app review

  potentially that's interesting like

  suddenly that like I mean it's so so you

  know that all of the apps for the most

  part that I've ever shipped have gone

  have to go through app review if go you

  know are from the App Store and that

  constrains and limits the types of

  things that I can do the types of risks

  I want to take you know like I have been

  bit by app review enough times that you

  know there's a certain consciousness and

  carefulness that I have to adopt when

  I'm working on my apps

  it's kind of interesting that if for me

  to be able to use the skills I have at

  this point potentially to ship apps you

  know if I would hope anyway that if you

  know if Apple did something like this

  they wouldn't be you know only available

  you'd only be you know somehow able to

  run these apps if they were came from

  the Mac App Store like hopefully you

  would be able to just run them independe

  independe anew as Mac apps you know with

  the developer ID code signing you know

  that kind of that that level of security

  that I could just you know sign it

  myself put it out on my website and

  distribute it like that's a really

  interesting opportunity and possibility

  and allows for new things and like

  that's really cool to me like those

  types of things are not restrict goal of

  this but as I creates these new

  opportunities and I just I love I love

  situations that it's like you create it

  it takes something that is existing and

  creates new opportunities for it then I

  don't exactly know like if tomorrow

  Apple announced this platform then it's

  like you know we've added this great new

  thing you know you

  can with relatively little effort make a

  well your existing iOS apps run nicely

  and natively on the Mac like I don't

  know exactly what I would do I would

  give some serious thought to what I

  could do with that because there's a lot

  of interesting things that I think

  become possible in that world and I

  think that I could imagine wanting to

  try and experiment with in a bit more of

  a creative way and it's nice to not have

  it over the back of my mind well this

  has to go through app review this has to

  you know be conformant with all of the

  app review stuff and so if it if I now

  have this you know this alternative

  place that I can go in experiment that's

  really cool too and a lot of the initial

  reaction has also focused on user

  pricing expectations and and things like

  devaluing a Mac apps to iOS app levels

  and this is certainly a reasonable

  concern for people to have but I think I

  kind of think a combination of two

  conflicting viewpoints either a it won't

  do that but be that ship has already

  sailed and that already has happened you

  know the Mac justifies higher prices

  today for a lot of apps not because they

  were difficult to write but but because

  or you know not that I assume Africa

  developers wouldn't classify it as

  difficult but you know what I mean like

  not because they were written an app kit

  that's not why they're expensive

  compared to iOS apps and you know and I

  think if you look at the actual pricing

  history of a lot of Mac apps there's

  already been downward pressure on

  pricing by by quite a lot and for quite

  a long time ever since the iOS App Store

  shipped at all so I think that ship has

  already sailed to a large degree and if

  if there is already pressure on your app

  to get its price down that pressure will

  still be there if there wasn't already

  pressure on your app to get its price

  down well first of all you probably

  aren't charging enough but second of all

  the reason why Mac apps have been able

  to charge good money is often because

  they actually deliver meaningful value

  to people in a way that they are willing

  to pay for and so that's things like

  apps people use to get their work done

  very specialized apps that

  there really aren't good alternatives

  for apps that save people significant

  amounts of time in their day and you

  know like that's the reason why app

  prices have been pushed down is not

  because Apple won't give us you know

  trials or upgrades or whatever it is in

  the App Store like whatever we're

  complaining about that year that's not

  the reason why prices have been pushed

  down the reason is because on iOS

  there's tons of developers so there's

  tons of competition and most developers

  expect to be able to make money from

  from just good work regardless of how

  much you value it delivers to the

  customer on the Mac the apps that make

  money are not just any Mac apps they're

  apps that like you know I'm willing to

  pay like 50 bucks for an app that helps

  me produce podcast every week because

  that's my job I'm willing I'm willing to

  pay good money for tools like I think I

  think my my get app was like 80 bucks I

  consider that a great value paint code

  my icon drawing app I think was a

  hundred that was also a great value you

  know the the apps that I use to get my

  job done or that save me significant

  time are valuable and are worth paying

  for and if this iOS you know to Mac

  crossover app thing happens that will

  still be the case the only risk to

  pricing on it on the large scale I think

  is that this will bring a lot more

  developers to the platform and so there

  will just be more competition but I

  think you know history of the world has

  proven that that's generally a good

  thing even if it might not be good for

  certain people who are there now who

  have had the platform more to themselves

  and have kind of locked up the whole

  market just by the you know difficulty

  or obscurity of the platform you know as

  part of a commuting factor if you now

  have more competition more people can

  develop Mac apps yeah that might not be

  good for like the handful of people who

  are there already but it's really good

  for the users and for pretty much

  everyone else and all those new

  developers who can now make careers here

  where they weren't before so that those

  are the concerns but I think and I think

  those are you know either unwarranted or

  missing the big picture and I think too

  if you're if your business if it's

  stated sustainability is

  fragile to the degree that in ink the

  introduction of additional competitors

  makes it fall apart yeah like you were

  in a bad position to start with and like

  I feeI really have genuine sympathy for

  people who find themselves in that

  situation I've been in that situation

  like early days of the eye I mean early

  days of being an iOS developer like wait

  you know whatever eight years ago it was

  really like I could make good money from

  being in the App Store just because

  there weren't that many other apps in

  the App Store

  so being one of them was great but

  eventually like that gravy train came

  you know came to an end and I had to

  adapt and had to move on and that

  process has been difficult and that

  process has not always been comfortable

  but I think that is the reality and it's

  the understanding that you know the

  position I found myself in back then was

  not because of something that I was

  entitled to or had you know uniquely

  achieved it's like it was it was more a

  circumstance of timing of luck of being

  the right place at the right time

  and eventually that time changed and I

  think it'll be the same thing here and

  it's like it's just going to be this

  question of fine you know you're finding

  a way to bridge the gap and it's like

  well if you're an existing Mac app and

  you have like if anything you have this

  great head start because you can

  presumably make apps that still stand

  out and that are still better than an

  app that is not really you know is not

  coming from somebody with the you know

  that length of experience even if it's

  you are still you know developing an iOS

  or whatever the equivalent you know

  framework that this is going to be you

  know I would imagine and expect that if

  you are a lifelong Mac developer and

  Jewish and you'd start developing a new

  Mac app with these tools it should be

  better it should be more informed have

  more you know have standout in a way

  that would you know give it an advantage

  but the reality is yeah it's like if

  it's like you could imagine the over the

  word it's like well people are just

  gonna expect to get the mac app for free

  when they get them to get the iPhone app

  and it's like yeah probably

  they already expect that they're ready

  they already do and this is just in one

  other the next form of that and this is

  this is the next place this is going to

  happen and that's not great that's

  uncomfortable but I think it's also in

  some ways it's necessary for the

  platform to move forward and so it's

  really sad and tricky and complicated

  and I have great sympathy for people

  they find themselves in the situation

  but that's you know that that's where

  that that's where this tide is rising

  too and we're just going to have to you

  know get in our boats and hope for the


  thanks for listening everybody I'm gonna

  talk to you next week bye