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By Dan Moren

One app platform to rule them all

The future of Apple’s platforms has been a hot topic lately, and today’s Bloomberg story by Mark Gurman is only adding fuel to the fire:

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.

Apps written for macOS and iOS already share a lot of common elements, including relying on many of the same underlying frameworks; this story seems to suggest that those ties will get even closer. Essentially, you’d have a single app package that would be able to load the correct UI for the devices that it’s running on.

One major advantage of this, as Gurman says, is that it would potentially help breathe new life into the Mac App Store, which has never seen quite the same level of success as its iOS counterpart. Developers would still have to deploy a custom Mac UI optimized for trackpad and keyboard rather than iOS’s direct touch interaction, but much of the code could then be written once for both iOS and Mac apps.

Of course—and here I’m diverging into my own speculation—if Apple decided it wanted to create a direct-touch interface on the Mac, this would help that along as well. If apps already contain UIs that are optimized for touch, that could make it easier to bring touch capabilities to the rest of the Mac. It would still require some pretty large shakeups to adapt the rest of the macOS to a touch interface, but it could point the way towards a future unified platform.

It also raises questions about the much-discussed potential of a Mac running on an ARM-based processor. An app that runs on both iOS and macOS would need to contain binaries to run on both x86 and ARM hardware, which would by default make all of those apps compatible with a putative ARM-based Mac.

If this unified app platform does come to pass—and Gurman hedges to say the plan could still be pushed back or canceled—then it’s the first step towards a future where Apple doesn’t have to maintain two major platforms. And, from the Apple perspective, this is a sensible way to move in that direction: by making a smaller adjustment upfront that could potentially save a lot of headache later.

What’s clear is that with iOS hitting the ten-year mark and the current incarnation of macOS approaching its 17th birthday, Apple is likely looking forward to the future of both of its platforms—and it makes a sense that it would want that future to be a closely intertwined one.

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]