Friday, June 14, 2019

Desktop Apps Post-Catalyst

Adam Engst:

That’s not to say that Apple is trying to replace the Mac with iOS or remove those unique capabilities of the Mac that make it special. The Mac and macOS remain first-class, vibrant Apple hardware and software platforms. But what we’re not going to see, at least from Apple, are new technologies that set the Mac further apart from its iOS brethren. When it comes to operating systems, it’s safe to say that it’s one for all, and all for Apple.

Chance Miller:

After talking about the new hardware introduced at WWDC, Craig Federighi dove into Apple’s new Project Catalyst, which allows developers to easily port their iPad apps to the Mac. Federighi noted that if a developer simply ticks the “Mac” option in Xcode, they’ll get some degree of “Mac-ification” right off the bat, but that developers can fine tune that for a true Mac experience.

In defense of the first set of Catalyst apps that were released by Apple last year, such as Apple News and Home on the Mac, Federighi said that some of the complaints people voiced were actually simple interface design decisions that the development teams made. Not necessarily because of Project Catalyst framework itself. Over time, Federighi says that Apple has learned how to strike a balance between the best design for these types of media-oriented applications on the Mac:

When we released the first set of apps using Catalyst, some of the concerns that were voiced placed a certain amount of focus on the technology, but that was really design decisions we made. There were pure design decisions that were different design teams pushing the bounds of what is the future of media oriented design. I think we’re finding our balance there, pulling back in some areas. And the underlying technology has improved.

I guess this was a planned talking point because he repeated it to Gruber and Viticci (whom he also told that he—like Tim Cook—mostly uses an iPad). It seemed to make people breathe a sigh of relief, but why? Is it supposed to inspire confidence that Apple could have used the technology to make good Macs apps, but the designers decided not to?

And have you seen the apps in Catalina? The Home app still looks like an iOS port, with iOS-style buttons and navigation in a little overlay on top of the window.

The News app seems pretty much the same as in Mojave. It still doesn’t support multiple windows. The navigation is still confusing. Basic features like text selection, page-up/down, and printing don’t work. It still has the horrible iOS-style interface for configuring channels and notifications. The “Open in Safari” command should have been given a keyboard shortcut but was instead removed.

The new Podcasts app has an iOS-style interface for notifications and depends on a private Catalyst entitlement. It also has to fake some controls. The info pane slides over the content in a strange way. The compact outline view from iTunes is gone.

The Music app uses AppKit but lost the column browser.

Apple Mail remains an AppKit app but is becoming more iOSified.

We expected Catalyst to finally bring parity to the Mac version of Messages, but it didn’t.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Catalyst is the main event, SwiftUI is more long term! That much is very clear to me now 😄 SwiftUI distracts Catalyst detractors from iOS apps consuming the Mac

John Gruber:

An iOS picker control on the Mac is bad UI. I wouldn’t celebrate a Mac picker control on iOS just because the Mac is more important to me personally. Bad UI is bad UI and Apple’s willingness to ship bad UI is the only truly worrisome thing about Apple today.


Update (2019-06-18): John Gruber:

Catalyst apps on Catalina:

News and Stocks: still can’t open articles in their own windows.

Voice Memos: still can’t open more than one recording at a time.

Home: still looks like this[…]

Dieter Bohn:

It is super disappointing that Apple didn’t put any work into these apps. iOS apps on the Mac are starting to feel like a pretty sweet solution.

I wanted Apple to go hard and show developers the right way to do these. This is not that.

Update (2019-06-19): Chris Masterson:

Took a stab at imagining what creating an Automation in the Home app for macOS could look like if it used native controls instead of the iOS app in a wrapper[…]

For context, here's how it looks today.

Jason Hiner (MacRumors):

In an interview with CNET at WWDC, Apple software chief Craig Federighi confirmed that the four iOS apps for Mac released last year will get major updates based on the new technology in Project Catalyst. But he also revealed that the apps will get new designs to make them more Mac-like.

“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.”


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.


“Wait for the public beta. We’re still tuning everything up. That’s where it gets really good,” Federighi said.

Update (2019-06-27): Jason Snell:

Mojave’s four iOS import apps inspired nobody. It’s possible that by the time macOS Catalina ships, they’ll be improved—and the additions of Podcasts and Find My might also change the narrative. But based on the initial public beta release, these apps are still either very simple utilities or are still missing menu items and keyboard shortcuts and the other niceties that Apple spent all of WWDC week pushing to an audience of potential Catalyst developers.

See also: The Talk Show.

Update (2019-08-01): Tim Cook:

We think [Catalyst] is huge, and so great for the user experience.

Colin Cornaby:

Checked on the macOS home app to see if that fabled redesign has landed yet and it’s… worse. Same UI but much more laggy, onboarding refers to my Mac as an “iPad” and discusses using the iOS Settings app to update my device.

This is beta so yes, it’s a work in progress. But the lack of attention on the Mac during the betas and the redesign that was supposed to hit in PB1 not appearing at all does not inspire confidence.


My pet theory is that internal Apple politics is involved in whatever is going on with Catalyst. Too many weird statements and different approaches. But whatever is going on, these apps don’t seem to be substantially improving.


Also these blurry Catalyst fonts are literally giving me a headache.

We’re now at Public Beta 4, and there’s still no sign of the big improvements that Craig Federighi said would be in the first public beta.

Update (2019-08-20): Colin Cornaby:

Catalina Developer Beta 6: Still no redesigned Mojave Catalyst apps that Craig promised would arrive in PB1.

Home still doesn't even understand mouse drags.

Catalyst fonts still give me a headache too.

John Gruber:


Update (2024-05-16): Kuba Suder:

So, 5 years later, have Catalyst apps consumed the Mac or not yet? 🤔

11 Comments RSS · Twitter

The lack of a rewrite or significant revision of the News or Home apps is my biggest worry. I mentioned in the other thread some positive design changes at Apple. But the Mail issues (which I hope are temporary) and the lack of a rethink of key apps (News, Home, and Photos) makes me still fear the people in charge of design. Still I think there's more positive than negative. Although I vastly preferred the UIs of Aperture, iPhoto and the older iWork to what we have today.

Oh god no, the News app is still terrible? I was hoping to see evidence that Apple realized what a shit show that app is, and fixed it. I really like the News+ service (aside from the many PDF magazines which are annoying to read) but having to go through the to use it is horrible! The app is awful is so many ways. What is disappointing is that someone like Federighi, with his decades of experience from NeXT to Apple (his entire professional career, AFAIK)... in charge of software development... could use something like and not think "This is total shit! We can't ship this!" Surely he would know better.

I have not been as confused by an app in a long, long time as I am with Literally nothing in it functions in an intuitive, expected way. How could anyone design it and think "Yeah, this all totally makes sense." ?!?!?

Federighi excusing the Marzipan apps as "v1" onstage while the Catalyst versions exhibit the same problems is, like when he made Gruber's audience applaud for Apple's documentation team, simple lampshading of the issues. Apple is pretending that acknowledging the existence of raised concerns is the same thing as addressing them.

"(his entire professional career, AFAIK"

He spent left Apple to be CTO of Ariba in 1999, and returned to Apple in 2009.

Ben, I was actually surprised Gruber didn't ask a basic followup question like "has News been fixed to allow multiple windows?"

Vitner, wasn't the praise for the document team just for SwiftUI where I thought many thought the documentation was quite good - particularly compared to everything else. But I fully agree that some of the frameworks are woefully documented and require a bit of hacking and experimentation to figure out. That ends up being days and even weeks of wasted time though.

Yeah, especially with News+, why can’t I open multiple magazines in different windows/tabs? The app is such a chore to do anything at all. I really don't see how any semi rational design process resulted in the mess that is It’s so bad.

*shrug* I'm encouraged that Catalyst exists, I think there's room for foreign language dictionary apps on macOS. I'd really like to see macOS versions of:

- Yomiwa & Hanyu -- Japanese and Chinese OCR apps, if you read manga / manhua you pop the pages into the apps. What's mind blowing to me is both of these apps handle vertical text runs. Only western languages stay horizontal.

- Pleco -- Industrial strength Chinese study tool, like Yomiwa a multi-tool that covers Simplified & Traditional Chinese, and some dialects.

- Japanese & Midori -- Japanese dictionaries that became study tools. Very powerful, replaces Japanese hardware (like Canon's "Word Tank" that takes read only CF cards to "boost vocabulary" for a fraction of the price.

I'm not going to care if these tools come off as too "iPad like" as long as they have good dataflow from macOS into & out of the app. Some of us just want to get the work done and for the apps to "just work." And if the devs want to charge for the macOS port I'll be more than happy to pay. (see my rant about subscriptions, so far the above devs are not interested thank the maker).

The other thing is even on macOS doesn't have that fancy a UI. I'm willing to give developers the benefit of the doubt, especially if they've made apps that I've found really useful. (Hint: Fiery Feeds app dev is posting screenshots of the macOS port. It looks functional and nice.)

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