Apple is counting on apps built for the iPad and the iPhone being converted to the Mac as a way to infuse new energy -- and a lot of new software -- into the granddaddy of its devices. The party started last year at WWDC 2018 when Apple announced a "sneak peek" at four of its own apps that it converted from iOS to MacOS. Those four were News, Voice Memos, Home and Stocks. But when the apps showed up in MacOS Mojave, they weren't greeted with much enthusiasm from Mac users because all four were rudimentary at best and didn't take advantage of the Mac's extra capabilities.
Good news. Apple is fixing them. At WWDC 2019 earlier this month, Apple announced Project Catalyst, which streamlines the process for all software makers to bring their own iOS apps to Mac. 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."
While much of that is developer talk -- AppKit is what's used to build MacOS apps and UIKit is used to build iOS apps -- it's clear that Mac users can expect a welcome update to News, Voice Memos, Home and Stocks in.
"We've looked at the design and features of some of those apps and said we can make this a bit more of a Mac experience through changes that are independent of the use of Catalyst, but are just design team decisions," Federighi said. "When I read some of the initial reviews of those apps, people were saying, 'Obviously this technology is causing them to do things that don't feel Mac-like.' Honestly, 90% of those were just decisions that designers made ... 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."
The one that needs the most work is Apple News for the Mac. On iOS, the app has been a runaway success since its launch in 2015, rapidly becoming one of the most widely used news aggregators on the iPhone and iPad. The timing for Apple News was perfect for a human-curated news experience, following the backlash against Facebook's news feed and the explosion of fake news surrounding the 2016 US presidential election -- much of it amplified by algorithms focused on click behavior.
Unfortunately, the first version of Apple News on the Mac that launched in 2018 didn't live up to the usability of its iOS counterpart. The Mac version was cumbersome for jumping between channels and topics, made it difficult to share stories from within the app, made it nearly impossible to open stories in Safari and would maddeningly hijack any email or text links that people shared with you from Apple News on iOS. Hopefully, Apple will fix those behavioral problems with the News app on the Mac -- beyond just the back-end plumbing and design fixes that Federighi mentioned are coming to the app in Catalina. Apple's other three iOS apps on the Mac mostly just need to feel more Mac-native.
One of the best signs that all of these will be much improved in MacOS 10.15 is an early look at the three new apps in Catalina that will replace iTunes -- Music, Podcasts, and Apple TV. In the developer beta for MacOS Catalina, all three of these feel like native Mac apps that have a modern flourish. And Apple revealed that the new Podcasts app used Catalyst to convert the app from iOS to Mac.
For those who are already using the developer beta of MacOS 10.15 Catalina and noticed that new versions of News, Voice Memos, Home and Stocks aren't in there, don't start worrying yet.
"Wait for the public beta. We're still tuning everything up. That's where it gets really good," Federighi said.
The MacOS Catalina public beta arrives this summer. Last year's beta arrived in July, so the wait shouldn't be long. A refresh of Apple News on Mac alone could make it worth a look.
For more on the interview that CNET editor in chief Connie Guglielmo and I did with Federighi at WWDC 2019, see our conversation on why it was time for the iPad to have its own platform and why Apple is working to help users reclaim their privacy.