What WWDC’s ‘sneak peek’ at project Marzipan could mean for the Mac

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WWDC 2018
The answer is complicated.
Photo: Apple

WWDC 2018 bug Cult of Mac Near the end of Monday’s WWDC 2018 keynote, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi addressed a question that’s been circulating in the tech press for a while: Are Mac and iOS merging?

His answer was direct and unequivocal: “No.”

Then he delivered a “sneak peek” of Apple’s long-rumored cross-platform project codenamed “Marzipan.” In line with the past six months of rumors, the idea of the framework is to allow UIKit-based iOS apps to run natively on Mac. While that probably sounds exciting to Mac owners, it could yield an unwelcome unintended consequence. It could trigger a “lost year” for Mac apps.

WWDC 2018 gave Apple the opportunity to be very kind to the Mac. But the news of UIKit support coming to the Mac in the next few years through Marzipan could prompt developers to put on the brakes for some cross-platform apps.

Marzipan could mean a slow year for Mac updates

Instead of developers working between iOS and macOS to update their apps separately, it’s likely that desktop app updates will be sparse for the next 12 to 18 months as coders shift their focus in response to Marzipan.

The end result could be developers putting more time and effort on refining and building out their iOS apps, and waiting to release them across both platforms when Apple allows it.

This isn’t to say that traditional desktop apps are dead. Notable functional differences separate the two Apple operating systems. However, for less-complex apps, it seems plausible that desktop versions could take a back seat as the world waits for Marzipan.

While public availability of the new developer tools won’t begin rolling out until WWDC 2019, Apple is already putting a few of its own apps — Home, Stocks, Voice Memos and News — to the test. Those iOS apps cross the mobile-desktop divide in macOS Mojave.

Does Apple’s project Marzipan mean the end of Mac apps?

Mojave App Store
A glimpse at the new Mac App Store.
Photo: Apple

Apple still cares about the Mac. The company made that apparent during the WWDC 2018 keynote. In the macOS segment of Monday’s presentation, we saw a revamped Mac App Store designed to revitalize the moribund software shop. Apple also highlighted that multiple third-party apps are finally coming to (or returning to) the Mac.

Behind the scenes, Apple is also working to expand the capabilities of Mac App Store apps.

Outside of improving the App Store for developers, Apple is crafting a way for its operating systems to coexist comfortably and creatively. The upcoming Marzipan framework will allow iOS developers to reach a different audience. It should reduce redundant development work and help the Mac become better and more useful.

Apple hardware of the future

Project Marzipan brings UIKit to the Mac
The new framework will allow UIKit iOS apps to run on the Mac, in parallel with AppKit Mac apps.
Photo: Apple

Looking beyond a broader app selection for Mac users, project Marzipan hints at other changes on the way. In recent years, Apple positioned software changes as precursors to hardware updates. When Apple emphasized Auto Layout in 2014, for example, it was only a few months before we saw new screen sizes with iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

With that in mind, it’s worth considering what the change to allow UIKit apps on the Mac might lead it. In fact, it could offer a clue about what to expect from future Apple hardware.

If apps designed for touch are coming to the Mac as early as 2019, it’s not a stretch to believe touchscreen laptops (or desktops) might also be on the way in a few short years. Another possibility is a touchscreen keyboard/trackpad hybrid we saw patented back in March. A third possibility is that Apple just wants to increase its App Store revenue.

For the time being, though, it could be a slow year for updates to cross-platform apps. Long-term, the end result of Marzipan could be huge changes for the desktop OS, and for customers.

This year’s WWDC answered many of our burning questions about Apple’s commitment to the Mac. And it offered a glimpse at the methods and rationale for merging iOS and macOS. But whether Apple’s project Marzipan simply results in a more-robust Mac app catalog, or a whole new way to interact with the Mac, it left us with some hot new questions as well.

If we must suffer through a year of anemic updates to cross-platform apps, that’s a price worth paying as we wait for the future of the Mac to arrive.