Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Stephen Hackett

The Hackett File: No company does transitions like Apple

See, even Steve Jobs’ keynote slide agrees!

Steve Jobs at Intel switch
Steve Jobs at Intel switch

Over the past 30 years, they’ve had several major changes, just in regards to the Mac platform:

  • 68k to PowerPC processors
  • PowerPC to Intel processors
  • MacOS to Mac OS X
  • 32-bit to 64-bit
  • Carbon to Cocoa

Some of these went more smoothly than others — pour one out for 64-bit Carbon, I suppose — but on the whole, Apple has been able to move the Mac through several major changes that may have killed a less-formidable platform.

Here in 2019, it feels like we’re on the edge of another time of change, and that’s ignoring the probable pending arrival of ARM Macs. Apple is slowly drawing back the curtains on its view of the future, and in that future, the Mac is more closely aligned with its siblings in terms of low-level software and the apps that can run atop that foundation.

This time, the dance is a two-step.

First, Catalyst, the program formerly known as Marzipan, or as Apple Developer’s site calls it, “iPad Apps for Mac.”

Catalyst isn’t just one thing, but rather is a set of developer tools and OS-level work that will allow apps written for the iPad to run natively on the Mac starting this fall with macOS Catalina.

Getting an iPad up and running on the Mac will be simple thanks to Xcode, but tuning and polishing an iPad app to make it a good Mac app will require some work by developers. Just like anything else, we will see both good and bad examples of this, and I’m hoping the market will push developers into taking the time to really make these apps feel at home on the Mac. These apps can be sold on the Mac App Store or directly to customers, a move that surprised some of us in the community.

If Catalyst is a success — and I think it will be — we should see a flood of new apps come to the Mac, or in some cases, bad Mac apps replaced with their more full-featured iOS versions.

But Catalyst isn’t the whole story. Apple wants iOS developers to become Mac developers, and it lets that happen, but I think Apple’s ultimate vision is a single unified development toolchain for creating truly universal apps that can run on Apple’s entire breadth of platforms, from the Apple Watch to the Apple TV and whatever comes next.

SwiftUI is the ticket to that future. It allows developers to build user interfaces in a clean, simple fashion, relying on platform-specific frameworks to make that work feel at home on each individual platform.

This is far beyond moving an iPad app to the Mac; it is creating an app that runs on the iPad, Mac, and everything else right out of the box.

Eventually, SwiftUI will replace AppKit and UIKit, the UI development frameworks for the Mac and iOS, respectively. That’s a long-term move; I think it may be a decade before the older ways of doing things fade away.

This is where’s Apple transition magic needs to come into play. AppKit has been around since the 1990s when it appeared at NeXT, and there is a whole generation of developers who have only worked with UIKit, making apps for the iPhone and iPad. Apple needs to convince these developers — many of whom haven’t even learned Swift yet — that this new way of doing things is not only easier than the old way, but better as well.

That will take time, and it will take Apple leading by example. I expect that over the next few years, they will announce, slowly but surely, that they are using SwiftUI to overhaul their own giant codebases, dogfooding the technology in apps like Mail and Calendar at first, with things like iWork and Final Cut Pro X following later.

Comparing this to the Carbon/Cocoa transition is not perfect, but we can look at Finder in those years to see how Apple may do things. At first, Finder was written in Carbon to prove that the framework was a viable bridge from the classic Mac OS to Mac OS X, then in Snow Leopard, Apple shipped a Cocoa version, signaling that the end was coming for Carbon. Most users didn’t even notice a difference, but developers should did.

Like Catalyst, I believe SwiftUI will be successful. Apple’s been around the block more than once, and that experience is about to pay off again.

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]


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