Friday, June 14, 2019

Is the Mac’s Future Bright?

Jeff Johnson:

My argument for the downfall of the Mac is pretty simple. The raison d’être of the Mac has always been its unique software. IMO the best software in the biz. The hardware has had its ups and down, at many points underpowered and/or overpriced. But the software was always best.

The business model of the Mac App Store, and the iOSification of the OS, are destroying unique Mac software. As soon as all the software becomes cross-platform and lowest common denominator, Mac loses its whole reason for being.

The question is, does SwiftUI help fix this by making it easier to support multiple platforms, letting you spend your Mac development time on truly Mac-specific features (rather than busywork from UIKit/AppKit differences)? Or does it bake in too many assumptions and limitations—it was originally developed for watch apps, after all—so that the API of the future can’t make good Mac apps (or makes that hard) and we end up with the worst of write-once-run-anywhere? So far I’ve seen evidence pointing both ways.

Jeff Johnson:

All of the worst case scenarios are coming true. For example, when Swift was released many claimed that the writing was on the wall for Objective-C, and some people including me scoffed, but a mere 5 years later we now have Swift-only frameworks. One of which is the future of UI.

Another worst case scenario: You can simply tick a box in Xcode and port an iOS app to Mac. Unimaginable before, but now it’s here.

Mac developers now need to submit apps to Apple and get approval in order to distribute. Again, this was unimaginable in the past, but the worst case scenario is here.

Don’t look at just this WWDC. Though it’s an important WWDC. Compare the Mac in 2019 to the Mac in 2009. Look at everything we’ve lost in those 10 years. Now project that same pattern out another 10 years.

The list goes on and on, and I’m frustrated by many of the same things. On the other hand, this is not the complete picture. There have been good changes and surprises as well, which empower developers and users. On the whole, I think Swift is a very positive development, and it came out of nowhere at a time when it seemed like Apple wasn’t taking the problems with Objective-C seriously enough. Likewise, SwiftUI could turn out to be fabulous, and it arrived sooner—and more ambitious—than most of us thought possible. iCloud is not great yet, but it has certainly improved greatly compared with where Apple’s cloud services were in 2010. So I’m sure one could make quite a long “good” list, as well. Not that this balances out, necessarily. How can one weigh AirPods against sandboxing or macOS Recovery against tccutil?

Mattt Thompson:

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Apple’s announcements of Catalyst and SwiftUI this year saved macOS from becoming obsolete as a platform.

John Gruber:

Last week felt like what WWDC should be: an Apple developer conference. Off the top of my head, it was the best WWDC for Mac users and developers since 2005, when the Intel transition was announced.

Marco Arment (tweet):

It’s hard to tell when Apple is listening. They speak concisely, infrequently, and only when they’re ready, saying absolutely nothing in the meantime, even when we’re all screaming about a product line as if it’s on fire. They make great progress, but often with courageous losses that never get reversed, so an extended silence because we’re stuck with a change forever is indistinguishable from an extended silence because the fix isn’t ready yet.

But there has clearly been a major shift in direction for the better since early 2017, and they couldn’t be more clear now:

Apple is listening again, they’ve still got it, and the Mac is back.

Jeff Johnson:

If you somehow believe that this WWDC was good for the Mac, consider this:

Apple specifically and publicly rewarded Twitter for discontinuing their Mac app.

The future Apple wants is one in which you don’t write Mac apps, you write apps for all Apple platforms.

Mac is demoted.

Jim Rea:

I respectfully disagree. At recent WWDCs most features were “sorry, iOS only, quite discouraging for this AppKit only developer. This year, at almost every session the story was “all platforms supported”, and significant time was spent demoing on/for Mac. Very exciting.

Jeff Johnson:

The elephant in the room for Mac software is the Mac App Store. At WWDC 2018, we were given the impression that the MAS would improve. […] The reality is that these few selected companies were given special privileges (in direct contradiction to Apple’s own anti-Spotify argument), and nothing else whatsoever changed about the Mac App Store. And again in 2019, nothing at all changed about the Mac App Store.


The existential question for Mac developers is, how do we sell our software to customers and make a sustainable living?

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Re-watching Catalyst sessions, it seems clear that Apple expects devs to offer brand new app SKUs for the Mac App Store w/ no shared purchase, shared IAPs, shared subscriptions.


Catalyst MAS distribution options currently restrict you to: free apps (no quality filter), free apps with in-app purchase & server-side account records (i.e. price erosion), or angry users having to pay twice for a Mac app that you can’t dedicate 50% of your resources to

I don’t know—I guess this is better than setting the expectation that you get all four versions of the app for one low price?


Update (2019-06-17): Leo:

No. They’re turning it into Windows and adding walled garden BS for non-MAS apps.

Colin Cornaby:

I came out of WWDC feeling that things would be different, but better for both iPad and the Mac. Not worse as was feared with Catalyst.

I also think the “what Apple actually means is Catalyst is the way forward” is just the other side of this. In the sort term, we’re all going to have to let go of things to move forward. And someday SwiftUI will be replaced by something else.

Things aren’t worse. Just new.

I’m not thrilled with the state of the Mac, and I have a lot of questions, but I would say that overall I’m more optimistic after WWDC than before it. Now we’ll have to see whether Apple follows through on its rhetoric with its actions.

19 Comments RSS · Twitter

Bryan Pietrzak

Jeff Johnson seems like the kind of person that won't be happy until the clock is rewound to the day System 7 was released

@Bryan IIRC, he didn’t become a Mac user until several versions into Mac OS X.

I may be completely wrong about the future of the Mac. I hope I am wrong. Or I could be right. In any case, I would simply ask that people stick to the subjects — Apple and the Mac — and abstain from making *me* the topic of debate. I'm not important, but the Mac is.

I thought it was interesting that in one of his interviews last week (I think it was with Gruber) Craig Federighi suggested that it was design decisions rather than the Marzipan 1 frameworks that led to the controversial issues with apps like Home or News. While it's fair to be a bit skeptical of that, I think it's design rather than quality that has been the key problem with the Mac the past few years. (Not that there aren't huge problems in quality such as with Preview)

What gives me hope is that last week saw suggestions of a shift in design priorities. We're finally seeing more color (which makes it easier to pick out tools) and movable pallets for the pen (suggesting a move away from a browser like UI as with Photos or iWork). I have a bit of confidence now whereas last year I think there were more reasons to worry. Further I think SwiftUI and Combine suggest we're getting a slow release of swift based successors to both UIKit and AppKit. Right now they're limited and designed to be incorporated piecemeal. I bet next year we get more fundamental releases.

@Clark I discuss the Marzipan stuff a bit in the other post today.

Given that I can't notarize my Mac app, and nobody at Apple will help me figure out the issue, I gotta agree with Jeff on this one.

"The chief haxies person is now the chief evangelist for Mac lockdown. What a bizarro timeline we've jumped into."

Who is he referencing?

If Apple can actually implement all of the things they promised this month without major bugs/flaws — something they have had trouble with in recent years — I would agree that from an SDK perspective, SwiftUI is a significant step forward.

I think the larger issues for the indie Mac software market are Apple’s higher prices on many Macs and their continued difficulties making keyboards. I imagine these two things are sowing some discontent among current Mac users, resulting in some defections to other platforms.

One of the problems with mac apps is that Apple itself often is not following HIG. They have to be the shining example and talk about how HIG is used and how important it is.

The other one is the MAS, it very poorly designed from the functionality, UX and usability point of view, and search is just horrible.
Also there used to be "Made for mac" apps section on their site, that would help users find proper apps, MAS is not a replacement for that.

MacOS has many built-in apps and important features that are not updated for years. Such kind of neglect is more obvious and visible in hardware lines, but for the future of the mac it's just as important.

I was thinking it'd be really freaking nice if Apple would facilitate some way of informing MAS-distributed app developers *Hey, I need your app in 64 bit and I'd be willing to pay* in order to provide an incentive to do the work.

Also, if I have a 32 bit app that has been superseded by a 64 bit app with a different MAS sku, or by an app that's distributed off-MAS, it'd be nice if I could find out.

JD Bolander

SwiftUI gives me hope for a future where a MacPad-type device could exist; where the OS expresses itself as a Mac when connect to its base keyboard and trackpad and then on the fly expresses itself as an iPad when the screen is torn away from the base.

I think this UI framework unification would be great for just having all Apple devices express the most “optimized” OS (iOS, macOS, tvOS, or watchOS) express itself based on context and attached/proximal screen size.

"Mac developers now need to submit apps to Apple and get approval in order to distribute. "

This isn't true. Everyone can still sell their apps from their own website, or wherever.

@NormM Every distributed executable must now be submitted to Apple and pass notarization before it will run.

Ben, Haxies were code injection that would customize various parts of the interface. They were quite popular at the time but tended to introduce hard to find bugs since they might cause *your* app to crash. I think it was with Lion that Apple locked down the system so they wouldn't work anymore. I gather from the comment one of the main people from Unsanity, who made Haxies, now works for Apple. Although I'm not quite sure who he's referring to. I suspect all the problems with Haxies and having to deal with the fallout made the person in question first off very aware of the security issues of code injection and very aware of the types of bugs it created.

That said, I do think that a problem for Apple is what some have called "whimsy." I think one can go too far. The UI in the early versions of OSX was described as "lickable" and definitely was too much whimsy. But I do miss some of the customization of the UI that was possible back before Lion. I think macOS in particular has become far too bland in many ways. Plus my #1 grip is how the active window and back windows are too hard to distinguish compared to earlier versions. (Forget when Apple did this - I think it was during the "back to the Mac" WWDC when elements of iOS7 were first added to the Mac UI)

Unsanity was Brian Wilson and Slava Karpenko... maybe another guy too? It doesn’t appear that Slava works for Apple (from looking at his Twitter), and Brian Wilson is a name that’s impossible to google.

@Ben Rosyna Keller

> Federighi suggested that it was design decisions rather than the Marzipan 1 frameworks that led to the controversial issues with apps like Home or News.

I completely believe this to be true. In fact, it was my suspicion all along. Catalyst, nee Marzipan, provides ample opportunity for creating rich, native Mac applications. And yet Apple decide to demo this new framework by doing exactly what Mac fans most fear about the technology: delivering minimum effort, lowest common denominator ports of iOS apps that wipe away most everything that made Mac applications great in the first place.

Jeff Johnson is unfortunately right, the future of the mac as "the personal computer for the rest of us" is dark if not dead. Anyone who knows the letters Sun or even SGI saw this coming when Apple started soldering RAM in and using more glue than screws. That fate was sealed with the coming out of the new mac "Pro" which is priced out of the range of most "Pros" and more in the range of nation states, Hollywood Studios ("compares favorably with cutting stations", remember that?) and the occasional state government.

Tim Cook has told "the rest of us" to buzz off. Marzipan/Catalyst, "Notarization" for everyone, these are all just "disinvitations" hoping "deadbeat customers and developers" (as the credit card companies say) will just go away. I wonder if Gab will get their Brave fork Notarized? That's going to be something to see.

I intend to be a "deadbeat customer" for as long as possible. I simply don't have the budget or the tolerance to be a hardware beta tester for Apple anymore. I'm happy with my tools, especially my previous generation keyboards that DO NOT STICK EVER. I might end up happy with Mojave and iOS 12.

Maybe Apple will "straighten up and fly right", maybe they will go the way of SGI and Sun, or maybe, since they now are a "workstation maker" with cash reserves they'll morph into IBM. I'm sure Tim Cook would be a lot more comfortable running an IBM, because post WWDC 2019 keynote, that's that I see Apple as.

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