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Apple Plans Combined iPhone, iPad and Mac Apps To Create One User Experience (bloomberg.com) 247

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: Apple's iPhone and iPad introduced a novel way of interacting with computers: via easy-to-use applications, accessible in the highly curated App Store. The same approach hasn't worked nearly as well on Apple's desktops and laptops. The Mac App Store is a ghost town of limited selection and rarely updated programs. Now Apple plans to change that by giving people a way to use a single set of apps that work equally well across its family of devices: iPhones, iPads and Macs. Starting as early as next year, software developers will be able to design a single application that works with a touchscreen or mouse and trackpad depending on whether it's running on the iPhone and iPad operating system or on Mac hardware, according to people familiar with the matter. Developers currently must design two different apps -- one for iOS, the operating system of Apple's mobile devices, and one for macOS, the system that runs Macs. With a single app for all machines, Mac, iPad and iPhone users will get new features and updates at the same time.
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Apple Plans Combined iPhone, iPad and Mac Apps To Create One User Experience

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  • MicroAppleSoft (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zorro ( 15797 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @12:02PM (#55776063)

    So how has this worked out for Windows so far?

    • Re:MicroAppleSoft (Score:4, Interesting)

      by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @12:26PM (#55776333) Homepage
      > So how has this worked out for Windows so far?

      It didn't work so well for Canonical Ubuntu either.

      Maybe the lesson is that the phone and the desktop really are very different user experiences and really deserve different apps focused on the strengths of each respective environment.
      • by Rob Y. ( 110975 )

        Isn't the reason it didn't work for Windows or Ubuntu the fact that there was no app base to start with. Sure there was tons of Win32 code - but that couldn't run on Windows Phone and couldn't be ported to something that could. And there was no incentive to rewrite it so that it could run on both - since there weren't any Windows phones out there.

        Apple is in the opposite position. There is tons of stuff that runs on iOS. And it's already in the 'new' platform - assuming that iOS source code can be tweak

        • And it's already in the 'new' platform - assuming that iOS source code can be tweaked easily enough to run on MacOS. So developers don't need to start over. Then again, if it's too much work, there may not be enough incentive to get your iOS stuff to work nicely on MacOS.

          iOS and macOS share APIs but an iPhone app and a macOS app both need to have very different UIs.On an iPhone sized touch screen device you need a very simple UI. On macOS you can have a much more full featured one.

          Not realizing that has done enormous damage to Windows as a platform - you ended up with a touch screen optimized UI on desktop machines. And forcing touch screen stuff into desktop Windows didn't convince anyone to write UWP apps that could run on both desktop and mobile. Now Windows Phone has be

          • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

            On an iPhone sized touch screen device you need a very simple UI. On macOS you can have a much more full featured one.

            And yet, if UIKit classes were available on OS X, at least for single-window apps, you could handle that with a different nib, in much the same way that you might have a more feature-rich interface on iPad or iPad Pro.

            Obviously document-based apps would benefit from a multi-window treatment, and thus would be better with more significant enhancements. But even those could be immediately por

          • by tepples ( 727027 )

            On an iPhone sized touch screen device you need a very simple UI. On macOS you can have a much more full featured one.

            But couldn't the iPad and MacBook UIs be quite a bit more similar? Physically, the iPad's display is sized closer to that of a MacBook than that of an iPhone, but its API and ABI are the same as that of the iPhone.

      • And yet Microsoft is trying to force a touch optimized UI on everyone. That goes for some parts of the Windows 10 UI and also for the "modern" apps that we're supposed to use now for everything.
        IMO there's only one good solution: Design different UIs for touch and mouse usage anything else forces suboptimal interfaces on some users
    • The odd thing, from my point of view, is that the default development environment for OS X, Cocoa, is MVC based. It ought to be easy to produce a single app that supports multiple user interfaces and user interface paradigms. That is, after all, a key selling point of MVC.

      I wonder why they're not encouraging that?

      • Re:MicroAppleSoft (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @12:48PM (#55776523)

        I wonder why they're not encouraging that?

        Probably because there's not a lot of saving in development costs that way. For most applications, it's the UI work that takes up the bulk of development time, not the business logic. If you still have to have a different UI for each platform, you aren't really saving much in terms of development costs.

        The problem is that a "one UI for everything" approach appears to be inherently flawed. Different platforms have different strengths and weaknesses, and if you just address the least common denominator of them all, you end up with something pretty crappy.

    • "So how has this worked out for Windows so far?"

      At least Apple has sold more than 2 phones, so it might work.

    • So how has this worked out for Windows so far?

      It kept me from ever considering Windows Phone; and it made me seriously consider switching to Mac or Linux when I got my last computer... I stuck with Windows, but if they ever expand the Windows Marketplace too far so that I have to start using it I might jump ship.

    • So how has this worked out for Windows so far?

      Doesn't really matter unless Apple copies what Microsoft did. The idea of apps that work across different devices with common development underpinnings is a very reasonable one. It's just not super easy to pull off. But the first company to do it well will probably make some serious bank so it's worth working on. And frankly Microsoft, Google and Apple are all working towards harmonized apps in one way or another and have been for a long time.

  • by omnichad ( 1198475 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @12:03PM (#55776071) Homepage

    And this will probably precede yet another CPU architecture shift to their own chips.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @12:05PM (#55776085)

    macOS and iOS use 2 different UI frameworks (CocoaTouch and UIKit, respectively). And this causes problems when trying to compile the source code between the two platforms. Ex: things like color and girth are defined specifically in each framework (NSFont and NSColor versus UIFont and UIColor). If they combine these frameworks, it makes the design and maintenance of cross platform software a lot easier (it'll still be difficult), and the at the very least, you wouldn't have to stub out a bunch of class names and files.

    BUT - the most important work is still on the developer to ensure that their app runs great on iPhone, iPad and Mac and has a cohesive UI that scales and takes advantages of the different technologies. It's no different from Responsive Web Design or the shift from iPhone to iPad (and vice versa). Kudos to Apple for the courageous approach to their failure of an app store on desktop.

    • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

      UIKit is a part of Cocoa Touch. I believe you meant AppKit.

    • I'm reminded of the FatBinary approach Apple took with applications that ran on PowerPC chips and x86 machines. It is a step in the right direction... but there are a ton of things that can't really be unified across iOS and macOS:

      1: The UI frameworks as the parent stated. This is a major issue.
      2: UI events. Microsoft tried to unify this and failed, because there is a reason why the UI on a 5K screen is different from a 5-7" wide smartphone. Stuff like right-click dragging makes no sense when it comes

    • by joh ( 27088 )

      The thing is that Xcode compiles iOS apps for Intel anyway and they run natively on the Mac. It won't be rocket science to get cross-platform apps. And then Apple will have it much easier to switch to their own SoCs for MacBooks.

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @01:26PM (#55776899)

      BUT - the most important work is still on the developer to ensure that their app runs great on iPhone, iPad and Mac and has a cohesive UI that scales and takes advantages of the different technologies

      Scaling is a big problem for iOS. When Apple made the Mac, they Did It Right. Both MacOS and OS X are DPI-aware (dots per inch). When you plug a monitor into the Mac, it queries the monitor for the model, looks it up in a database to determine the screen size Then it takes the display resolution, divides it by the screen size to calculate a PPI (pixels per inch). Then scales the UI elements appropriately. Apple originally had to develop this for their Postscript laser printer way back in the 1980s. They integrated it into the Mac so when page layout artists were working on a Mac, an 11 point font on the screen was exactly the same physical size as when it was printed out.

      That's why the Macs had no problem with switching to the high-PPI Retina displays, while Windows still has lots of problems with 3k and 4k screens. Windows isn't aware of your screen's size and DPI, OS X is. Microsoft fixed this with Windows 8, so the system fonts, icons, and menus scale (based on a % you set, not on the screen's physical size). But apps which don't use the system fonts and menus don't benefit from this. That's why the UI in Adobe's apps are microscopic when you run them on Windows on a 4k screen. Adobe eschewed Windows' built-in menu system to build their own (probably so they could implement tear-off menu bars). That's why when you try to run an older Windows app with any scaling other than 100%, the fonts look blurry - Windows is simply rescaling the bitmap of the font, instead of substituting a correctly-scaled font which takes advantage of subpixel rendering [grc.com].

      Then Apple made probably their biggest blunder with iOS. They ditched this tremendously successful DPI-aware model, and made iOS dependent on a fixed resolution and screen size. Apparently Steve drank too much of his own kool-aid and decided since 3.5" with a 4:3 aspect ratio was the "perfect" screen size and There Would Never Be any other screen size, iOS didn't need to be DPI-aware. That's why they stuck with the original 3.5" screen for so long, why when they did increase the resolution they did it by doubling the DPI, and when they increased the screen size they initially did it by stretching the screen (adding more to the top/bottom). Because that was the only way to do it without breaking the UI of older apps. This is most apparent in the iPad Mini - it uses the same resolution as the iPad, but on a smaller screen. Resulting in everything it displays being smaller than on a regular iPad. They could add scaling to iOS now, but it would be like the situation with Windows and every app in the App Store would need to be re-written to be DPI-aware.

      Ironically, Android is DPI-aware. Google didn't know the sizes of the Android devices manufacturers would make, so they had to make Android DPI-aware. A lot of Android apps ignore it, but the setting is in there. When properly used, the icons and fonts on Android are the same size whether you run the app on a phone or a tablet. And unlike the Mac where it's fixed depending on your monitor size, you can override it in Android. When I got a tablet for my elderly parents, I rooted it and set the DPI as if the screen size were 33% smaller than it really was. That had the effect of automatically making all of Android's icons and fonts 1.5x bigger, which really helped my parents use the tablet.

      • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @01:53PM (#55777165)

        Every iOS app has been able to query the UIScreen object for its scale and size in points. What apps do with that is up to the developer. I know that it's not exactly the same as PPI, nor DPI, but it serves well enough.

      • Unfortunately, what you write is just not true.

        MacOS does not support arbitrary scaling. While the graphics system was built on Postscript, non-integral scaling factors turned out to bring too many problems. Fortunately, the technological progress in screen technology made high DPI-monitors possible and so Apple decided to stick with integral scaling factors. This is why all early Retina-displays exactly double the dimensions of older displays.

        This works exactly the same way on macOS as on iOS btw.

        For inter

  • We all grew used to MS being the copycat and doing everything Apple does a few years later.

    But the other way around? Really? Especially after pretty much everyone, even the dimmest computer illiterate noticed that touch-oriented input is simply atrocious for desktop GUIs and that you can't really design an interface that works well for clicking with a mouse and touching with fat fingers?

    Well, ok, go ahead. Back with Steve still on the helm I'd say, maybe they know what they're doing, maybe they have a solut

    • Launchpad came out on OSX many years ago (near identical to iOS home screen). It seems like they put everything on hold to let Microsoft do their market research for them and learn from their mistakes. One of the lessons was to not make touch screen desktops. I don't think Windows is all that bad with it's tablet mode and I am guessing that Apple agrees.

    • Ever had to code a responsive web site? Same thing.

      • With the main difference that most webpages I know have a dedicated "mobile" version (which looks like shit on a desktop).

        Mostly because the "normal" webpage looks like shit on a mobile device.

        In the end, you still create two distinct layouts. So where exactly is the big benefit?

        • If a website has a dedicated "mobile version" then it's not a responsive website.
          If the "normal" website looks like shit on a mobile device then it's not a responsive website.
          A responsive website is not two distinct layouts. It's breakpoints in the way you style the same information. The benefit is you only code things once for the backend and once for the content. Then you don't have problems such as information being out-of-date or functionality missing from the mobile version.

          But it's hard to think about

          • by tepples ( 727027 )

            You can't just send a 5K background image that weight 10MB and then hide it in CSS for mobile, which I've seen so many times it's not even funny.

            Compressing a 10 MB image to 5 kB? What codec is that?

        • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

          I haven't come across a mobile version of a site that was of any use. The closest I've come is Github, but they have ridiculous restrictions on what you can do, and make you jump through the hoop of changing to the desktop version just to merge a PR with incomplete CI tests.

    • Apple has always copied. Apple's strategy has never been of the innovator. The strategy has always been the fast follower strategy. They let other be on the bleeding edge and learn from their mistakes and come in with a much more polished, dumbed down and well integrated version. What this does is by the time Apple brings a product to market the market is ready for it but also frustrated with the incumbents and ready to accept fewer functionality for greater reliability and ease of use.
      The Mac was a copy of

      • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

        The Mac was not a copy of PARC's work, but it was inspired by it.

        Mac OS is a Unix implementation. It's no more a "copy" than Solaris was a "copy".

        The iPhone didn't really copy anything, but was obviously took inspiration from many sources.

        I do agree that Apple is not innovative, per se, but Jobs had an eye for style that has not been seen in the mass consumer market since.

      • Apple has always copied. Apple's strategy has never been of the innovator. The strategy has always been the fast follower strategy. They let other be on the bleeding edge and learn from their mistakes and come in with a much more polished, dumbed down and well integrated version. What this does is by the time Apple brings a product to market the market is ready for it but also frustrated with the incumbents and ready to accept fewer functionality for greater reliability and ease of use.
        The Mac was a copy of Xerox PARC
        Mac OS is a copy of Unix
        The iPod was a copy of various cheap mp3 players
        The iPhone is a copy of the Motorola Rokr - the first phone to play iTunes as well of various Windows Phone 6 Touchphones from HP
        The iPad is a well put together version of countless Samsung tablets
        The Watch is a copy of various Android gear smartwatches
        Apple Pay is a copy of countless systems which have been there in Japan for almost 25 years now
        The Homepod is a copy of Alexa, Google Home etc

        Almost nothing Apple does is original . It just does it better and takes over a market.

        You DO realize (of course you don't) that you defeat your own arguments.

        There is a vast difference between a "Copy", which is a direct knock-off, usually inferior version of an original product, and an improved version of an original product. Dozens of companies do the former. It takes almost no expertise, and does nothing but cheapen the entire field. Apple does the latter, which is why, as you yourself have admitted, they do it better, and more often than not, end up taking over the field, at least until

  • The problem is the restrictions in it. These restrictions are both technical and commercial.

    Technical first - the sandbox is great in iOSland. In Macland I want to run things like VMware, or command line utilities, or emulators, or hardware drivers, or...you get the idea. The sandbox stops all that.

    The next one is commercial - I am used to paying upgrade prices, not junking and paying full price each time. Definitely needs an upgrade model in the store. I actually think that this is the largest of all
    • Why would you no longer run vmware or terminal?
      About what restrictions are you talking?

      Why should being able to run "iOS apps" restrict ordinary macOS Applications?

      • by mccalli ( 323026 )
        The article takes the tack of thinking this will improve the Mac App Store. I think the article might be reading too much into this, and that that's not Apple's move. To me it sounds like a straightforward unification of GUI toolkits, and less maintenance.

        I don't have any concern, I'm just reacting to the part of the article which states that this may be a move to improve the Mac App Store. I really don't think it will.
        • It likely won't.
          AFAIK you can not have Java based Applications in the Appstore, not even with bundled runtime.
          And then again regarding Apps, I doubt there will be many mobile Apps that make sense as a desktop 'App', the exception are chat clients.

    • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

      I don't understand your concern about the commercial aspect. From the App Store, updates are always free. If the developer is putting up new apps in the store just to be able to charge an upgrade price, that's his problem. He should just not use the App Store.

      • by mccalli ( 323026 )
        Updates always being free is the problem. If I want to go from e.g. GreatApp 2 to GreatApp 3 then I have to rebut Great App 3, not pay an upgrade fee. Trivial and minor versions - yes, they're typically free outside the app store too. But major version to major version? I think upgrade fees are reasonable in that circumstance.
        • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

          So stay out of the App Store. Your making up a problem that doesn't exist.

          • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

            * You're

            • by mccalli ( 323026 )
              Well...no, I'm not. The article states this will help the Mac App store. Both you and I agree it won't - the model suggests you stay out of the app store.

              I think the article is reading too much into what looks like a straightforward technical unification of APIs.
  • Apple should not have hired the Windows Vista/8 product manager.
  • Amphi-car? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DigitalSorceress ( 156609 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @12:17PM (#55776219)

    Remember the failure of the Amphi-car? it was neither a very good boat nor a very good car...

    This is how I see apps that are trying to be all things .. phones / tablets / desktops have very different UIs ..and for good reason.

    Play to each platforms strengths.. Microsoft tried to do this with its windows store Universal Plaform stuff and well, I can't speak for anyone else, but even on my Surface pro, I never run those "apps" .. I use it like a PC.. keyboard and touchpad/mouse

    • Remember the failure of the Amphi-car? it was neither a very good boat nor a very good car...

      And yet far better than driving a cat that toes a boat that can carry a car across water.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      What's funny is that while your example is great, I see a couple of amphibious cars every summer out on the lake I boat on.

      So despite few being made and a long time ago, there's some weird value to them that keeps them going and turning up in places you'd least expect them (like a lake in the Midwest).

    • I haven't used the "Continue on PC" feature in Windows 10 (just moves browser windows from the phone to the computer) but if this feature existed for Excel, I can be pretty sure that I *would* use it when switching from a tablet to a PC.. Apple is just making it easier to build cross-platform apps. Microsoft is figuring out how people want to work even if the original incantation isn't interesting.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @12:21PM (#55776257) Journal
    Snark and odious comparisons with Microsoft's foray into shoehorning desktop into phone UI aside, done correctly it would work.

    Separating content from presentation, graceful degradation, etc have very strong unix roots. It was in the context of character terminals interacting with graphical displays, but still, nroff, troff, LaTeX, TeX, original HTML are all really markup languages interpreting data appropriately for the devices that consume them.

    So done correctly, it could work

    Apple has a track record of doing it right. So it could work for Apple, though a similar attempt by Microsoft was pathetic.

    • Separating content from presentation, graceful degradation, etc have very strong unix roots.

      But nothing in the Unix world that I'm aware of (outside Ubuntu's attempt) consists of having a single UI that works on all form factors. The Unix way is to make it easy to attach a different UI on the same backend.

  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @12:22PM (#55776285) Journal

    I believe this is the reason Macbooks don't have touchscreens yet - Apple has been working on some way of bringing iOS UI / app compatibility to OSX for a full integration, but they haven't been able to pull it off from the software standpoint. Thus no touchscreen until that happens. Think about it... there are only three options for introducing a touchscreen. 1) Merely another input device, which won't work well at all because widgets are too small for touch interaction and none of the apps would support gestures, multi-touch, touch and hold, etc. 2) Yet another UI for touch interface somehow bootstrapped into OSX (make widgets bigger, make controls respond to dragging - IE what Microsoft did). 3) Integration of iOS and OSX in some hybrid way that brings the best of both into one device, and suddenly makes Macbooks way more appealing since they can run the massive library of iPad apps immediately.

    You better believe that back in the Apple labs there are Macbooks with Apple ARM SOCs embedded in them (A11, etc) that can run iOS apps natively that have touchscreens, but they haven't managed to refine the OS UI to an acceptable point so far. This Slashdot story is a step in that direction, getting OSX developers on board and preparing their OSX apps for that environment. The iOS apps should be trivial - just need a touchscreen. iOS apps that can benefit from hardware keyboard, etc, already have that support anyway.

  • Jesus, what is with the UIX designers? Did they see the windows 8 debacle and think, "I want me some of that!"

    Here's some free knowledge: Different devices require different usage profiles. Desktops are more multi-purpose and have the advantage of a mouse and keyboard, meaning a touch interface makes no damn sense on them. Tablets have more screen than your average phone, so your designs should take advantage of that. Phones are the lowest screen space and usability, so you need an entirely different UIX methodology.

    Seriously, someone write this down so we don't have to go through this nonsense again.

  • Apple confirms it's a mobile device company, and is going to finally rid itself of the antiquated albatross that is the Mac line.
    • Apple confirms it's a mobile device company, and is going to finally rid itself of the antiquated albatross that is the Mac line.

      Yeah, that's why they JUST released an 18-Core, Xeon-based, Vega 64-using iMac Pro.

      Idiot.

      • Yep, that's a $7400 dollar machine from Apple! I guess that's a hint at what it will take to run that iOS-ified version of Macs in the future...
        • Yep, that's a $7400 dollar machine from Apple! I guess that's a hint at what it will take to run that iOS-ified version of Macs in the future...

          You're so full of shit, it's running out of your ears.

  • Unless or until I can develop and publish iOS apps with only an iOS device, they cannot possibly claim to offer a combined experience on a single device.
    • Just develop your iOS app like you would design an iOS device's hardware - on Windows (Creo/NX and Altium).
      • by mark-t ( 151149 )
        You can't (legally) publish an iOS app with Windows.
      • Just develop your iOS app like you would design an iOS device's hardware - on Windows (Creo/NX and Altium).

        Altium is Windows-only; but, as I have repeatedly pointed-out to YOU, Siemens NX has been available for macOS since at least 2009.

        • Too bad they use Creo and Solidworks... As I've consistently pointed out to YOU... Face it, Apple is now just a mobile platform company, and the Mac line exists solely as a way to suppose those mobile devices. It's why they get a refresh maybe every 3-4 years, compared to annually for the mobile devices.
  • Since everyone who has tried this "unified app" thing so far has done little more than demonstrate that it's a pretty terrible idea, I'm curious to see if Apple has some approach that could actually make it not suck.

  • After all, if memory serves, it worked so well for Microsoft.
    • After all, if memory serves, it worked so well for Microsoft.

      Microsoft tried Tablet computers for years, too.

      Then Apple came along...

  • what about finder for IOS?? or will mac os get locked down like IOS?

  • by Dster76 ( 877693 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @01:03PM (#55776667)
    Apple's latest update for Garageband for iOS has all kinds of substantial features that the desktop version didn't get.

    https://www.apple.com/ca/newsroom/2017/11/garageband-brings-new-sound-library-and-classic-beat-sequencer/ [apple.com]
  • by Subm ( 79417 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @02:40PM (#55777691)

    Apple has become what its 1984 super bowl ad [youtube.com] implied it was liberating us from.

    Looks like Apple is ripe for being liberated from.

  • "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

    This idea worked so well for Microsoft...

  • by hackertourist ( 2202674 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @03:09PM (#55777959)

    A few years ago, Apple replaced its Mac OS iPhoto app with Photos. This removed a lot of functionality in order to have a more consistent experience between Mac and iPhone photo apps.
    If that's the future of more Mac OS apps, I'm not looking forward to it.

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