Earlier this month, Apple lifted the lid on the latest updates coming to the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch operating systems in the autumn – an event that went down well with both journalists and the general public. Amongst the new features announced was a long-awaited Dark Mode for iOS, new Mac apps for Music, Podcasts, and TV to replace iTunes, and the ability to stream music and other audio to more than one set of Bluetooth headphones.
But for developers, one feature stood out more than others: Project Catalyst, Apple’s blueprint to unify the app experience across its various hardware platforms. By introducing a new set of tools, Apple is allowing developers to build cross-platform apps without having to develop software from scratch; in other words, port iOS apps to the Mac without the legwork.
Below, we explore the news in more detail and outline the benefits for businesses like yours.
What is Project Catalyst?
Initially announced in 2018 alongside the codename Marzipan, Project Catalyst is a set of tools and APIs that allow iPad and iPhone app developers to convert their software to run natively on the Mac. Rather than building an app from the ground up, developers can launch apps for the Mac based on their existing iPad apps, and update them at the click of a button.
Last year, Apple ported several of its iPad apps to the Mac; News, Stocks, Voice Memos and Home all made their way to macOS, offering desktop users the same experience they could expect on iPad devices, albeit optimised for a computer, rather than a touch-screen tablet.
“We’ve learned a lot since then,” said Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering at Apple. “We spent the last year expanding the number of categories of apps that the technology can support and turned it up so it results in a much better Mac app.”
When Apple launches iOS 13, iPadOS and macOS Catalina this September, developers will be able to convert iPad apps into new apps for the Mac. But how can you take advantage?
Convert an iPad app into a Mac app
According to Apple’s developer documentation, converting an iPad app into a macOS app “takes just a click in a checkbox,” and Mac and windowing features will be added so that the app can adapt from touch controls to a keyboard and mouse. Taking away this extra work from developers allows them to “focus on the finishing touches” of their app on the Mac, like adding in a sidebar or pull-down menus to take advantage of the Mac’s screen real estate.
Apple has made it easy for one development team to build a single app that works on iPhones, iPads, and Macs – developers don’t need to learn a whole new coding language, and businesses don’t need to pay more than one developer to build software for their brand.
However, it’s important to note that not every iPad app is right for the Mac. If your app takes advantage of iPad-exclusive features like HealthKit, ARKit, or basic smartphone hardware like an accelerometer or rear-facing cameras, then it probably won’t work well when it’s converted to a Mac app. Assess the use cases and don’t convert an app for the sake of it.
You should also bear in mind that, whilst you can technically “click a checkbox” to convert an app, most apps will need some tweaking so that they perform well on a PC. Apple suggests supporting multitasking (so users can take advantage of features like Split View, Slide-Over, and Picture in Picture), drag and drop, and keyboard shortcuts so that it performs well on a Mac – if you’re porting an iPad version with limited Mac functionality, users won’t engage.
Still, that’s not to say it’s hard work. Twitter, for example, has already announced it will bring its iPad app to the Mac. Speaking at WWDC, Twitter said it had a Mac app running, including native Mac features, in just a couple of days, meaning one team can efficiently manage Twitter on three hardware platforms – iPhone, iPad, and Mac – without complex processes.
Save time and money on development
Perhaps the biggest benefit of converting an iPad app to the Mac is that you’ll save time and money on development – but only if you were planning on launching a Mac app in the first place. As Apple is introducing a whole new set of tools and APIs, you’ll be able to tweak and enhance a single piece of software, and it’ll work on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS immediately.
According to Cult of Mac, the average app for an iPad or macOS device requires around 770 man-hours and costs US$38,500 (around £30,000). If you’ve got to pay that one than once, then you’ll likely consider holding off on developing a Mac app as you’ll find a larger, more immediate audience on iOS and iPadOS with its prolific App Store used by millions of users.
It’s not just the cost of developing an app – it’s the cost of maintaining and adding to your app over time. Unless you’re building a one-off tool, you’ll probably want to introduce new features over time to improve user experience and engagement; knowing you can do this once and roll out updates to all three platforms reduces unnecessary headaches and costs.
Increase workplace productivity
If you’ve developed an enterprise app for your business, porting it to the Mac could have a significant impact on productivity. Enterprise apps help you to unlock efficiency and agility and take advantage of new technology to reinvigorate the way you run your business and manage your team. And whilst smartphones and tablets are a great way of doing that, some tasks require a desk and a keyboard for ultimate productivity, whether that’s filling out a report or emailing potential leads at the start of the week. A Mac app makes that possible.
With an app that works across tablets, desktops, and PCs, you’ll save countless hours, avoid unnecessary spends and ensure opportunities aren’t missed or overlooked. And considering iOS and macOS are more secure than their Android and Windows counterparts, you don’t have to worry about security, with major leaps forward in security introduced every year (Apple’s new T3 chip ensures bad actors can’t listen in on your MacBook when you close the lid, and the new Find My app will help you find a stolen iPad or Mac, even if it’s offline).
Reach a whole new audience
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of macOS. Whilst Apple holds a relatively modest share of the personal computing market (13.89% compared to Microsoft, which commands three-quarters of the PC market) that figure is growing year on year as people switch to Mac.
With more than one million iPad-optimised apps on the App Store and 100 million active Mac users out there waiting for new apps to arrive on the Mac App Store, businesses operating in both the B2B and B2C sectors can take advantage of a whole new audience and ensure as many users as possible are engaging with their software. After all, development isn’t cheap, so increasing your return on investment by launching on multiple platforms makes sense.
Apple has only just rolled out its Project Catalyst API and documentation, and with iOS 13, iPadOS, and macOS Catalina four months away, it may be a while before iPad apps start turning up on the Mac.
In the meantime, contact the mobile app development experts at Zudu. We’ve helped brands such as Dundee City Council and NHS Scotland increase efficiency, capitalise on lucrative market opportunities and outmanoeuvre the competition – and we’d love to help your business with a new iOS app that can be ported to macOS!
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