To save the Mac, the App Store needs more than just a redesign

macos mojave hands on review app store

The Mac App Store is a ghost town, and it always has been.

The lack of growth is a bad sign for the health of MacOS as a whole. Just a few months ago, even Twitter quietly pulled its Mac desktop client out of the Mac App Store, assuming no one would care.

But at the Worldwide Developers Conference this morning, Apple appeared to have addressed the problem pretty clearly. We’ve got a fully redesigned Mac App Store, complete with helpful discovery tools and redesigned app pages — and it all looks great. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more than visual flair to save the Mac App Store. It’s going to to require the only thing Apple has never been willing to do.

Bringing iOS apps to the Mac

Mojave is a nice update to MacOS, but there’s no question that the pace of innovation in MacOS has nearly stalled to a halt. Compared to the feast of updates Apple cooks up for iOS each year, MacOS fans are left picking through the crumbs on the floor. And yet despite all the rumors pointing to an thriving future for MacOS, Apple made it more clear than ever: MacOS and iOS are not merging.

However, toward the end of its keynote, Apple gave us a sneak peak into how it intends to help developers bring iOS apps to the Mac. And no, it’s not by merging MacOS and iOS or by bringing touchscreens to the Mac. Instead, Apple is updating its API to make porting iOS apps over to Mac a bit simpler.

As it currently stands, iOS and MacOS are built on two entirely different APIs. That means porting an iOS app over to the Mac requires a lot of development work. But by integrating elements of UIKit into MacOS apps, the two platforms now share some more DNA. In particular, things like trackpad and mouse input, window resizing, scroll bars, drag and drop, and copy and paste are all elements this new process could repurpose.

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According to Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, some aspects of app porting will be automated, while some will still require some extra coding.

Using Xcode, Apple’s app-making software that runs on Macs, a developer will be able to indicate they want to write a variant of their iOS app for macOS,” he said in an interview with Wired. “Certain interaction UIs will happen automatically, like turning a long press on iOS into a two-finger click on a Mac. App makers may have to do some extra coding, though, around things like menus and sidebars in apps, such as making a Mac app sidebar translucent or making share buttons a part of the toolbar.”

For Apple, it’s the bare minimum they can do to help save MacOS. While the API changes will no doubt help incentivize developers, they don’t go far as they need to. 

True convergence must occur

Apple doesn’t want to merge iOS and MacOS. Various Apple execs have made that abundantly clear. But what they haven’t addressed in either the redesign of the App Store or the new API is the reason why so many people are calling for the two platforms to merge. We all want our laptops to feel more like phones. We want them to be smarter, more contextual, and open to third-party developers. And more importantly, we want the two computers we use every day to feel more connected. That’s the problem Apple needs to solve.

The redesigned Mac App Store and new API are good first steps, but Apple’s insistence against a unified operating system is too hopeful. In order to transform the Mac App Store into a thriving marketplace where hundreds of great mobile apps are being ported over, Apple does need to tie MacOS to the lifeboat of iOS, its popular platform. They need to converge, meaning full API support for touchscreen and ARM processors — neither of which are officially on the table. 

Not only do we need all of those great iOS apps ported over to the Mac — we also need the Mac App Store in particular to become a place of innovation and creativity on its own. But without first being able to piggyback off the success of iOS, that’s no more than a pipe dream. Fixing the divide between mobile and desktop operating systems isn’t going to be solved overnight, but it’s what MacOS needs to stay relevant.

Until then, the Mac App Store and the MacOS platform will continue down the road of irrelevance.

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