Apple took its own app ecosystem by storm at WWDC when they announced Project Catalyst, a new effort to help developers take their existing iPad apps and easily make them available as native Mac apps. With Catalyst and the new SwiftUI framework, developers will be able to simply click a box in Xcode and their iPad app will become a Mac app as well, with a ton of the functionality needed automatically ported over in order for the app to run smoothly on the Mac. Of course, all app developers can make design upgrades and add additional functionality, but the idea that you can build an app for the iPad and port it over to the Mac with this much ease is a huge leap forward for the iPad and the Mac and opens the Mac (and the Mac App Store) up to millions of potential new apps.
While macOS Catalina isn’t being released until the fall, there are already four catalyst apps on the Mac: Apple News, Stocks, Voice Memos, and Home. Last year at WWDC, Apple announced a multiyear project that we now know as Catalyst, and as part of a preview of what was to come, they brought these apps to the Mac with the release of macOS Mojave. Unfortunately, they have not been well received by the Mac community. They feel more like iOS apps and the Apple News app, in particular, is a bit of a mess. The navigation and overall user experience is clunky, the app lacks the ability to pull any article into Safari, and sharing articles is quite cumbersome. According to Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering, that is all about to change with macOS Catalina.
In an interview with CNET, Federighi assured users of the apps that these iterations of Apple News and the rest are merely version one and we will all see major improvements to all four in the new macOS. He explained that where many expressed concern over the user experience of the apps and cast doubt on the technology that drove the project, they were actually unhappy with certain design decisions that had been made for Apple’s first take on what an iPad app might look and feel like on the Mac. They’ve learned a lot, and the second generation of these apps are going to see major overhauls in design and functionality that will make them feel much more like true Mac apps. This, of course, is being achieved by the underlying architecture of Catalyst and Swift UI, working to shift the need of developing using older technologies such as AppKit and UIKit to the new frameworks that make iPad apps on the Mac a native experience.
These changes are apparently coming sooner than we expected as well. The new versions of Apple News, Stocks, Voice Memos, and Home will be available to try out for the first time in the public beta of macOS Catalina when it releases this summer. Mojave’s public beta was released in July, so we may only be around a month away before we get to take these new versions for a test drive. They are also being joined by the new Podcasts app, another iOS app brought to the Mac using Catalyst which has received positive reviews so far. Knowing that extensive changes are coming to the four original Catalyst apps is a real indicator that Apple is taking the time to learn about how to do this right and working tirelessly to move the technology forward so that all of us, developers and users, can get excited about the wave of Mac apps that are on the way.