(Not so) quick thoughts on the future of Mac apps

2 minute read

I’ll just out and say it: I see the future of Mac apps being windowed iOS applications, somewhat akin to universal Windows apps. However, I am not saying that the iOS and OS X operating systems will merge.

I have no idea if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It is probably good for Apple and the vast majority of its developers.

I’ve had this belief for a long time, but I’ve resisted posting it because I know my end result will be nitpicked to death without consideration for the overall picture. But, don’t get stuck on the particulars of my words, get the overall picture.

What do you mean? Emulation? iOS-like?

No, I mean natively-compiled, windowed Mac applications developed using iOS frameworks, which will over time, be enhanced with the functionality required by most Mac applications. The Mac would just be an additional project target option, alongside the iPhone and iPad.

And I am not suggesting that iOS and OS X themselves will eventually merge. I think that OS X in its current form will eventually die off.


  • Because developer transition between iOS and Mac application isn’t actually all that easy or smooth. The application frameworks for each OS are massive, and while there is some overlap, there is less than you might think.

  • Because developers can maintain a smaller knowledge set and lower their development costs (eg. time & money).

  • Because there are vastly more iOS-focused developers than Mac-focused developers.


  • Sooner than we think. I’m guessing in the next few years, possibly at WWDC ‘15.


Apple might initially release an iOS runtime environment for OS X and a new version of Xcode with a new Mac project target. Again, this would be actual, natively-compiled, windowed iOS apps, not the iOS-like Cocoa apps we see today on OS X.

Apple will either start by pushing this as the Mac application platform of the future, or they’ll push it out as a “hobby” thing (that provides them with a safety net) and it will gain unexpected traction amongst the developer base and take off.


But, Cocoa Touch is touch-only!

Response: Yes, but obviously, it would be adapted and possibly renamed to reflect that, who knows?

But, the current iOS app frameworks are too limited in functionality to replace Cocoa on the Mac!

Response: The iOS frameworks will adopt whatever technologies it needs to suffice. iOS is not a stagnant OS, and significant new features and capabilities have appeared with iOS 8, such as Extensions and XPC improvements, for example.

Whatever it ends up being, the model will be far, far closer to iOS than OS X.

But, screen resolutions

Response: Auto Layout is there for a reason.

But, if OS X as we know it dies, how will developers develop apps?

Response: Good question, I don’t have a clear vision as to how this will look. The continued “simplication” (the troll in me wants to use the term “iTunesification”) of Xcode may shed some light on that.

But, power user features!

Response: I think it’s abundantly clear, with the continued direction of OS X, that power users are not Apple’s target market.

In closing

I’m sure there are some holes in my argument and things I’ve forgotten to consider, so I’ll update this post as those arise. Shoot me an email, tweet, or link if you have anything to add.