Apple may combine iPhone, iPad and Mac apps in a bid for platform unification

Shawn Knight

TechSpot Staff
Staff member

Apple may soon borrow a page from Microsoft’s playbook. The Cupertino-based company as early as next year could allow developers to design a single application that works equally well across iPhones, iPads and Macs.

As it stands today, developers are tasked with creating separate apps for iOS and macOS.

Sources familiar with Apple’s plans tell Bloomberg that the project, codenamed “Marzipan,” will be one of the flagship features of next year’s software roadmap. Apple could announce the initiative at its annual developer conference in June ahead of a late 2018 debut although sources note that Apple’s plans are still fluid and could change between now and then.

Microsoft tried something similar with its Universal Windows Platform before bailing on its mobile strategy.

Should the project come to fruition, it’s unclear if Apple would merge the Mac and iOS App Stores.

The move would likely be welcomed by developers as it would obviously be easier to code a single app versus having to create and maintain two variants. Conversely, with a single, multi-purpose app, you run the risk of presenting an interface that feels like it was designed for a different platform entirely (partially because it was).

It could also put some developers in an uncomfortable position. A dev that simply doesn’t care to serve a specific platform may suddenly find themselves having to do so anyway.

Second photo courtesy Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

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jobeard

TS Ambassador
Interesting. Believe it or not, the goal of "Write once, Run anywhere", was a concept of Java. The problem(s) occurred in the RTL(Run Time Library) variations required for the various GUI systems. It SHOULD have allowed a single compile of the Java source and then binding it with the various RTLs. It didn't work out that way - - sigh.

Conversely, with a single, multi-purpose app, you run the risk of presenting an interface that feels like it was designed for a different platform entirely (partially because it was)
VERY significant problem; eg Dropdown menu don't work well on mobile devices, website links in the left panel are shunned on mobile devices in favor of all Links across the top of the page.

It's a nightmare to design an interface based solely upon what is common across platforms!!
 
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Vrmithrax

TechSpot Paladin
So Apple users can look forward to a future filled with some exciting combination of overly complicated phone apps and severely dumbed down computer apps... Good times!
 
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Reehahs

TS Guru
Translation: expect sub-par experience across all platforms. The only thing I have seen done well across all platforms so far is the simple calculator app!
 

psycros

TS Evangelist
The only way you make a true universal application w/o the overhead of something like Java is to have the mobile version be a subset of the full one. In other words when you run the app on a mobile or under-powered device the app goes into "lite" mode. This has actually been implemented a few times over the years with mixed results but it makes a lot more sense than handicapping desktop computers with clumsy mobile UIs and limited capabilities. Nearly 20 years ago Bill Gates was dreaming of all software being subscription based and accessed via thin clients - in essence bringing back the mainframe model. If we can ever get around wireless bandwidth limitations we can probably achieve this, but that's decades away at least. It would, however, make it pretty easy to achieve the "subset" paradigm for UIs..and that's the only sacrifice you'd have to make on a thin client.
 
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Anton Skryaga

TS Enthusiast
Translation: expect sub-par experience across all platforms. The only thing I have seen done well across all platforms so far is the simple calculator app!
Since 2015 AppStore is recompiling all apps for every platform (different CPUs of iPhones/iPads) so we can expect adequate performance level.

Agreed, the UI design may be a big problem to merge mobile/desktop apps.

My own experience with cross-platform code was using API library from mobile java app (in pre-Android era) in my desktop application. It just worked. So I think with under-the-hood code it's very possible.
 
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jobeard

TS Ambassador
The only way you make a true universal application w/o the overhead of something like Java is to have the mobile version be a subset of the full one. In other words when you run the app on a mobile or under-powered device the app goes into "lite" mode. This has actually been implemented a few times over the years with mixed results but it makes a lot more sense than handicapping desktop computers with clumsy mobile UIs and limited capabilities.
Yes that's the typical trade-off. But there's still the variations of screen usage that are non-trivial to resolve; aka menus down the left side vs mobile across the top -- it's doable, but there's are new abstractions layoutManager() and behaviorManager() to be created.
 

lostinlodos

TS Booster
Interesting. Believe it or not, the goal of "Write once, Run anywhere", was a concept of Java.
And why so many java apps look and work so poorly. Application unification across devices is simply not going to work.
Microsoft tried to bring Mobil and touch to the desktop with windows 8 and many of us skipped it.
Google tried to merge big screen tablet apps with small screen phone apps and that didn’t work.
Now Apple is going to try too.
Look, people have been trying this for decades and it never works out. Be it terminal access on a microcomputer in the early 80s, pen computing on the desktop in the 90s, desktop apps on a pda in the 2000s, and phone apps on the desktop now.
Some unique apps will make the transition well enough but in the end every attempt will fail.
Just look at how many NES ports failed to sell well on the GBA. Grand theft auto isn’t playable on the phone. I’m not typing a 50 page memo with my thumbs on the phone and we’re not going to.
 

jobeard

TS Ambassador
Because I mentioned Java, some are jumping to the conclusion that Apple will use Java in this unified effort. I brought it up only to show that there is prior experience in Write Once and although it came close, it didn't claim the cigar.

I’m not typing a 50 page memo with my thumbs on the phone and we’re not going to.
yes, I agree and said so elsewhere.