Apple’s cross-platform app development plans for macOS and iOS

There has been a lot of chatter recently with rumors of Apple’s plans to merge iOS and macOS apps. The project, codenamed Marzipan, will be a large scale effort, spanning multiple years, aimed at allowing developers to create a single app that works across different user interfaces. In theory, a developer could create a single app and implement multiple user interfaces targeted towards macOS (keyboard and mouse) and iOS (touch).

Apple Codename Marzipan

While Mark Gurman had broken the news about Marzipan, John Gruber wrote his own piece saying that this project is nothing more than a declarative control API:

There is indeed an active cross-platform UI project at Apple for iOS and MacOS. It may have been codenamed “Marzipan” at one point, but if so only in its earliest days. My various little birdies only know of the project under a different name, which hasn’t leaked publicly yet. There are people at Apple who know about this project who first heard the name “Marzipan” when Gurman’s story was published.

If you don’t know what that is, it is similar to XAML, Microsoft’s declarative markup language. I asked Mark on Twitter on whether this is all Marzipan is and he responded saying that John was referring to a different project.

It is possible that both Mark and John might be talking about sub-projects of the same large project intended to make it easier for developers to write apps for both macOS and iOS, at the same time. While this could result in better apps for iOS as well as more games on the Mac, it could also work the other way: result in low quality apps. It could make Mac apps ‘dumb’ and only as feature rich as their iOS counterparts. The best Mac apps are carefully crafted pieces of code that focus entirely on macOS design guidelines, keyboard shortcuts and mouse usage. They take the best advantage of Mac specific APIs. With Marzipan, it will make it easy for developers to put in minimum effort to convert iOS apps to macOS app.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is very similar to Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform apps. Developers can write apps using Microsoft’s UWP and with minimal effort, get them to work on Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, Xbox and HoloLens. Such cross platform app development nirvana all sounds good in theory but it never really took off. Microsoft’s mobile efforts failed tremendously, which was perhaps the most important piece in this puzzle. HoloLens has not gained widespread adaption and it never might. This leaves just two platforms for Microsoft: Windows 10 and Xbox. It’s anyone’s guess as to why people would buy gaming consoles primarily for apps. Even before UWP, developers were writing apps for Xbox and it doesn’t have a large enough library to warrant cross platform compatibility. Among the UWP apps that are available in the Microsoft Store, there are only a few ones that are good enough to show off, which is not saying much.

Apple is expected to announce iOS 12 and macOS 10.14 at WWDC 2018, which will take place from June 4th to 8th in San Jose, California. As per reports, Apple would announce Marzipan’s building blocks at this event. The company is expected to focus purely on performance and stability for iOS and macOS this year, after years of buggy releases. Major new features and home-screen redesign are expected to be part of iOS 13.