Mac Catalyst 2.0: Doubling Down on the Alignment of the Mac and iPad

WWDC 2020 brought Mac Catalyst into sharper focus than ever before. Introduced as an unnamed ‘sneak peek’ in 2018, Mac Catalyst offered the promise of a simple and efficient way for iPad developers to bring their apps to 100 million Mac users. The reality was that it can be hard to transition an app from an iPad to a Mac, and the results weren’t always great.

The trouble was the result of a confluence of multiple factors, including:

  • The first iteration of Mac Catalyst used iPad design conventions in places that felt out of place on the Mac
  • There was too little documentation
  • Excitement surrounding SwiftUI left developers wondering whether Apple was committed to Mac Catalyst

WWDC 2020 was different. Apple introduced what was effectively Mac Catalyst 2.0 with its Optimized for Mac initiative, a separate Mac Catalyst path that follows Mac conventions more closely but requires more work. The company also built Messages and Maps, two of its flagship apps, using Mac Catalyst, demonstrating a deeper commitment to the technology than ever before. The result is a brighter future for Mac Catalyst that clearly has a role to play alongside SwiftUI and Apple’s other frameworks.

To understand where Mac Catalyst is heading, though, we first need to understand where it has been over the past two years.

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Due for Mac Modernized with New Design and Features

A full-fledged task manager is terrific for many projects, but if you dump your entire life into one, it can quickly become a cluttered mess. At the same time, if you’re focused on a big project, it’s easy to let everything that’s not in your task manager slip through the cracks. One strategy for attacking the problem that has worked well for me is using a separate, lightweight app for tasks like remembering to take out the garbage, pick up medicine at the pharmacy, or publish an article when an embargo lifts.

In the past, I’ve used Due on the iPhone and iPad for these sorts of tasks. There has been a Mac version of Due for years too, but it hadn’t been updated in about two years and was showing its age. However, with today’s update, Due for Mac joins the iOS version with a fully-modern design and slate of new features, putting it on par with the outstanding iOS version, which I’ve covered in the past.

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Concepts: Sketch, Note, Draw [Sponsor]

Concepts is a powerful creative tool to help you think, explore, and sketch your ideas. Stretch your mind past the limits on an infinite canvas using liquid pens and brushes in designer COPIC colors. Used by creative professionals for visual thinking, note-taking, drawing, storyboarding, graphic design, product iteration, and architectural planning, Concepts lets you sketch, communicate and present your ideas with a flexible, customizable toolset.

Built from the ground up for iPad’s touch sensitivity, Concepts combines vectors with natural finger gestures to enhance your creative workflow. Everything you draw can be edited, moved, and reorganized, allowing you to interact with your ideas at a deeper level. Drag+drop images and objects for fast ideating, use layers and grid layouts to organize your work, and apply real-world scale for professional design work.

Concepts comes with a built-in Presentation Mode that lets you connect to a large display for graphic discussion and live sharing during events. It works with apps like Zoom for instant virtual whiteboarding. Once your work is final, export and share standard, high resolution, and vector file types for flexible work between teams and apps.

The app comes free as a basic sketching tool, with the ability to unlock 200+ libraries of brushes, objects, and services via subscription or one-time purchase. Sketch, explore, and share your ideas infinitely with Concepts.

Download Concepts today for free and give it a try. To learn more about how Concepts can help you explore your ideas, visit concepts.app.

Our thanks to Concepts for sponsoring MacStories this week.


MacStories Unwind: Dark Noise, Soor, and Game Reviews, Plus a Developer Debrief

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Sponsored by Overdrop Weather – Weather Simplified

This week on MacStories Unwind:

MacStories

Club MacStories

  • MacStories Weekly
    • iOS 14 tips from Federico
    • A Collection of John’s favorite first-gen Catalyst apps
    • Ryan on why the iPadOS update is a bigger deal than it appears
    • An interview with Spend Stack developer Jordan Morgan
  • Join Club MacStories

AppStories

Unwind Picks



Podcasting on iPad Pro and Mac: A Streamlined Approach with the Sound Devices MixPre-3 II

Anyone new to a job has probably thought or even asked:

“Why do you do it that way?”

and gotten the age-old answer:

“Because that’s how we’ve always done it.”

It’s human nature to stick with a solution that works and is familiar. When a workflow is so ingrained that it’s a habit, that’s good because it allows the task to become less about the tools and more about what you’re creating.

Paradoxically, though, familiarity can also lead to inflexibility, a resistance to change that undermines the very productivity that the solution enabled in the first place. It’s an inertial force that’s hard to resist, but I think it’s important to push back against it. Not solely for the sake of efficiency, but also to improve the results of your efforts.

The trick is knowing when experimentation with new workflows is unproductive fiddling and when it’s meaningful exploration. I’ve seen too many people fall into the trap where improving the process becomes the goal itself.

Early last year, I decided I was finished with letting tasks dictate how I work. I work across the Mac, an iPad Pro, and an iPhone all day long. Some jobs are more suited to one device than another, and some I just prefer to do on a particular device. The point is, though, that it’s something I want to be my choice, instead of something foisted on me by the nature of the work itself.

I’m fortunate that most of what I do migrates effortlessly from one device to another. Still, I’ve historically had two weekly responsibilities where I’ve felt tied to a Mac.

The first was producing the Club MacStories newsletters using Mailchimp’s web app. As I wrote last January, Safari’s updates in iOS and iPadOS 13, which made web apps work roughly the same on my iPad Pro as on my Mac, solved that problem for me.

The second Mac-bound task was podcast recording and production. I recognize that there have been ways to accomplish podcasting on an iPad for a while. However, when it comes to recording in particular, I didn’t want to change the way I record episodes to work around the iPad’s limitations for the same reasons Federico articulated in Beyond the Tablet.

What made these two tasks frustrating is that they’re both tied to schedules that have limited flexibility. When I was traveling more, that left me with little choice but to take a Mac. I prefer to travel with my iPad Pro, but regardless, I’d rather pick how I work myself, even when I’m at home.

I’m not doing as much traveling now, but a recent road trip to Michigan led me to start thinking about my podcasting setup again. As with many trips in the past, I wound up taking my MacBook Pro along, in this case so I could record interviews for an episode of AppStories. The setup was perfectly fine, but it felt like too much equipment for recording a few short interviews. Plus, I took my iPad Pro because I prefer it for writing and wanted to stay connected to mobile data as I wrote a story in the car.

Ever since Jason Snell wrote about his iPad Pro podcasting setup on Six Colors early last year, and Federico adapted it for his setup when he can’t use his Mac mini, I’ve wanted to try something similar. What held me back, though, was a combination of the complexity, cost, and infrequency with which I assumed I’d use the setup.

I also held out hope that iPadOS 13 or 14 would include improved audio routing that would make it possible to talk on Skype and record a local audio track. That hasn’t happened. Although I expect Apple will add that functionality eventually, it’s been 18 months since Safari solved my Mailchimp problem. With only podcasting standing in the way of my goal of device independence, and no software solution from Apple in the early iPadOS 14 betas, I figured it was time to revisit my hardware options.

I wanted a solution that worked equally well when I’m sitting at my Mac or iPad, allowing me to talk over Skype and record myself locally. What I discovered was an incredibly versatile solution that accomplishes in a single device what Snell and Federico cleverly constructed from a field recorder and USB audio interface: the Sound Devices MixPre-3 II.

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Game Day: Good Sudoku

Zach Gage has a knack for giving classic games an interesting twist. Sometimes that means turning the rules upside down and inside out like Flipflop Solitaire or Really Bad Chess. Other times, it means removing the tedious and boring parts of games to breathe new life into them, which is precisely what he and Jack Schlesinger have accomplished with Good Sudoku.

I started with Good Sudoku as a novice. I’ve played sudoku before and knew the rules, but it’s not a game that has ever grabbed me and stuck. As a result, as much as I’ve enjoyed Gage’s other games, I approached Good Sudoku with a healthy dose of skepticism. However, after several days of playing the game, I’ve found that stripped of its tedious aspects, sudoku is engaging to the point of being addicting and a whole lot of fun.

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Soor 2 Review: Magic Mixes and Release Alerts Elevate the Beautiful Apple Music Client

Following the debut of Apple’s MusicKit API, which enables third parties to build apps and web experiences that directly integrate with Apple Music, 2019 was a big year for third-party Apple Music clients on the App Store. We’ve written about several of these apps, but the earliest and highest profile debut of the year was Soor, a meticulously designed client that distinguishes itself with a fully customizable Home view for displaying only the content sections you care about – choosing from things like Recently Added, Playlists, Recently Played, New Releases, For You, and more. Federico reviewed the launch version of Soor and found a lot to like about its unique approach, but he ultimately was disappointed by the absence of certain functionality that’s readily available in Apple’s first-party Music app.

In the nearly 18 months since launch, Soor has improved in significant ways. I adore the throwback Cover Flow-inspired playback screen, where you can smoothly swipe through a horizontal row of artwork, and time-synced lyrics are now available via a tight Musixmatch integration. There are still certain functions you’ll need to pop into Apple’s Music app for, sometimes due to Apple Music API limitations that Soor’s developer can do nothing about, and other times because the app simply doesn’t offer certain features yet – AirPlay 2, for example, is still unsupported. Overall though, for my uses at least, Soor covers enough core Apple Music functionality that there’s very little I need the first-party client for. The biggest absent feature on my wishlist is an iPad app, which I’m glad to see is on the roadmap, especially since iPadOS 14 will soon offer a much-improved first-party Music app.

Soor’s improvements have made it a truly compelling alternative to the first-party Music app, and today’s 2.0 update continues that trend by offering two big new features: magic mixes and release alerts. The latter is a nice addition, but the real pillar of this update is magic mixes.

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