Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Catalyst Can Rescue the Mac and Grow the iPad

John Voorhees:

By contrast, Catalyst is a shorter-term initiative designed to address two soft spots in Apple’s lineup: the stagnation of the Mac app ecosystem, and the slow growth of pro iPad apps. The unstated assumption underlying the realignment seems to be that the two app platforms are stronger tied together than they are apart, which ultimately will protect the viability of their hardware too.

The impact of Catalyst on the Mac and iPad remains murky. It’s still too early in the process to understand what the long-term effect will be on either platform. There’s substantial execution risk that could harm the Mac or iPad, but despite some troubling signs, which I’ll get to in due course, I’m convinced that Catalyst has the potential for meaningful improvements to both platforms, especially the Mac.


The Mac has always had great productivity apps and still does, which masks the platform’s troubles. While it’s true that I can still get my work done on the Mac with a robust set of first-class apps, it’s also true that the depth and breadth of choices I have are limited. Moreover, every year that passes, I find myself drawn more and more to iOS for specific tools that I can’t get, or which are inferior, on the Mac. On one level, that’s perfectly fine. I’m just as comfortable working on iOS as I am on a Mac. However, I’d rather pick the platform I use for a particular task than be forced to use one over the other because of app availability.

I compiled a very long list of iPad apps I’d like to see come to the Mac as I researched this story. I’ll spare readers the full list of over 60 apps and instead focus on a handful of categories that I think would benefit the most from Catalyst.


Update (2019-06-26): Brent Simmons:

Do you really think the Mac is a dying platform?

Tanner Bennett:

I don’t think it’s dying but I think Apple doesn’t really care for it now the same way it did before, so it’s long term death is inevitable unless they change their ways. Like a cancer without treatment.

Jeff Johnson:

Mac unit sales are near all time highs, that’s indisputable.

But Mac developer job openings are near all time lows, that’s also indisputable. The software market has been completely disrupted.

Chuck Shotton:

I think you are seeing a symptom of a different problem. Namely, people don’t use desktop computers as much as they used to, and not for as wide a variety of tasks. With most app use on mobile or web-based platforms, no desktop environment has as many developers as 10 years ago.

Jim Rea:

I do not think the Mac is a dying platform. When most users want to get serious work done, they turn to the Mac, with pointing devices, windows, menu bar, 27” screens, etc. I love my iPad Pro, typing this tweet on it, but when it’s time to be productive, I go to the Mac.

Roben Kleene:

Disagree, it’s a policy problem. As I tweeted yesterday: “Sketch is the only industry-leading macOS-exclusive creative app built by a third party, it was released in 2010. Sandboxing was introduced in 2011. No new Mac app has been as successful since. That’s not a coincidence.”

Here are the industry leading creative apps by market share: Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Lightroom Classic, Sketch, Ableton Live, VSCode. Number that are sandboxed: 0. Number that support plugins (which are explicitly banned by App Store rule 2.5.2): All of them.

What Apple is doing is harming creators on both ends. On the low-end, sandboxed apps are worse because they aren’t allowed to be full featured, on the high-end the prices go up, and the development efforts get diverted to between two versions of the app (see Lightroom/Photoshop).

Colin Cornaby:

What’s with all the conversations about the Mac or the Mac app ecosystem as endangered or dying? Are you people serious?

I was a Mac user when the platform was actually dying in the 90s. I know what a dying Mac platform looks like. This conversation is ridiculous.

12 Comments RSS · Twitter

This is 100% right. How many pieces of hardware now come only with configuration tools on iOS or Android? It's an echo of what we had with hardware back in the naughts when I frequently had to virtualize just to get data off a voice recorder.

I'd add that the apps I'm most looking forward to are map apps. The Mac supports GPS via bluetooth and there are advantages to using it rather than your phone for maps. (Screen size if nothing else) Being able to have all the robust types of maps - especially backcountry maps - without crappy browser versions will be much appreciated. (Assuming they port them) I'm also hoping various health apps port to the Mac (including Apple's Health app) as data entry is much easier there.

”…the stagnation of the Mac app ecosystem…"

Is that really a fact?

Sure, there are some simple apps like configuration tools that only comes for iOS these days and Twitter abandoned the Mac, but if we are talking about real desktop software for productive and creative work etc then I feel like the Mac app ecosystem is thriving. Just look at what Affinity is doing, creating great software alternatives to the Adobe suite at affordable prices. I wouldn't call that stagnation.

@Adrian That is a good question. I tend to think it’s doing fine, but a lot of people seem to see it as obviously in trouble. There’s some more commentary on this here.

I think it depends upon what class of apps you're talking about. I think true productivity apps are fine since arguably iOS simply doesn't yet deal with them well for various reasons. There it's Windows or macOS or to a far lesser extent Linux. Perhaps over time iPadOS may change that.

Move beyond that though and you find the small utilities, the hardware enabling tools, and so forth either aren't being made much anymore or are primarily browser oriented apps. Even some productivity apps are moving towards electron or similar pseudo-web applications. (Think Quickbooks for instance) There simply was a vitality to small Mac programs a decade ago that isn't there now. Those small applications now tend to get written for iOS but not the Mac. Hopefully this changes things somewhat.


I moved from Linux to Mac when OS-X came out. It was the best of both worlds. A Unix with lots of users plus the Next-Step GUI! Loved it! Even wrote a book about it!

But every year Apple changed the look and feel, like new car models, and kept broke APIs. Then they ditched Objective-C entirely. Apple kept absorbing other people's good ideas, with not very good implementations of their own, but free. iOS has even absorbed the idea of a period tracker. On the Mac, there's one email client these days, and it doesn't work very well. I'm surprised the EU hasn't sued them for this the way they sued Microsoft for its browser. Apple makes hardware and has commoditised its complement: software, just as Microsoft commodified its complement: hardware. On iOS people have been trained to expect software to cost nothing, nd people whine about spending $5 on an app, while drinking a $5 cup of coffee. (No surprise that iOS apps are filled with spyware, they have to make money somehow). And it has continued commodifying its complement by creating a Mac AppStore, and encouraging users to use it instead, even though it's full of crap and you can't find anything in it. Notarisation is just the latest step. I'm expecting Apple to use notarisation to block apps from being distributed in the future. Perhaps because some patent claim was asserted. Perhaps because they just don't like the app or its creator.

We're going from a world of user-software that is engineered, to a world of disposable user-software written by people who would hurt themselves if given a pointer, and of spyware.

I think a lot of the (obvious?) reasons there aren’t as many new Mac apps today as 10 - 15 years ago is that 1) many app tasks can be done via the web now 2) many apps have already been created to satisfy various needs and/or fill such niche roles that there’s little reason for anyone to try to compete and 3) a LOT of stuff that used to be done via apps / utilities is now baked into Mac OS and “good enough” for most people.

Even at its worst, the 90s Mac software market felt much healthier and more interesting than today's. I can't remember the last time I saw a new Mac app and thought to myself, wow, that's a cool, novel idea. Maybe it's just that OS X is a mature platform, and all the cool stuff that can be done has already been done, but then again, maybe there's a different reason.

Kinda related: somebody asked Arlo Rose whether he'd bring back Konfabulator, now that Dashboard is gone. His reply: "With sandboxing, I'm not sure it's even possible."

If people can't bring the old Konfabulator, no wonder nobody is creating cool new stuff.

[…] Catalyst Can Rescue the Mac and Grow the iPad […]

@Lukas: ”I can't remember the last time I saw a new Mac app and thought to myself, wow, that's a cool, novel idea.”

Do you see that on any other desktop platform? Or is it just that they're all mature by now?

”If people can't bring the old Konfabulator, no wonder nobody is creating cool new stuff.”

That is the real problem for the Mac platform, I think. Sandboxing (as Apple does it), Mac App Store handling, lack of API:s and documentation etc and every other hurdles that Apple are (intentionally or not) putting up for Mac developers *is* hurting the Mac software market and prevents new tools and software for being created in the first place.

>Do you see that on any other desktop platform?

I've never really seen this on Windows, which, unlike the platforms it displaced, always had a very utilitarian, uninspiring software market. I guess on Linux, it still happens from time to time, but primarily with applications aimed at Linux's target audience, so on a different level than with the Mac.

>Or is it just that they're all mature by now?

TBH, I do not believe that computing platforms can ever be mature in that sense. Computers are so generic in their functionality - they're basically a way of making sound, and lighting up pixels - that it is inconceivable to me that after a mere 40 years, we've reached the end of innovation already. Is this really all we can think to do with these things? Seems implausible to me.

[…] Catalyst Can Rescue the Mac and Grow the iPad […]

Leave a Comment