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Posts tagged with "Catalyst"

Developer Crunchy Bagel Releases a Mac Catalyst Version of Streaks

I’ve used Streaks on and off since its introduction. The app is a fantastic way to track and establish new habits. When it was launched, Streaks was iPhone-only. Since then, however, the app has added iPad support, an Apple Watch companion, Health app and Shortcuts integrations, new customizations, and other features, all while maintaining its distinctive, brightly-colored UI and fantastic iconography.

Today’s update adds Mac support to the mix via a brand new Catalyst app. There are a few differences between the Mac app and its iOS and iPadOS counterparts, but if you already use Streaks on an existing platform, the nearly-identical Mac version will feel familiar immediately.

iPhone screenshot scaled down for easier comparison with the Mac app.

iPhone screenshot scaled down for easier comparison with the Mac app.

By the same token, newcomers who discover Streaks on the Mac may have a hard time adapting to the app’s approach. Modal views that slide into place from the bottom of the screen like an iOS app, ‘Done’ buttons and custom controls to close views, and fixed window dimensions aren’t design elements typically found on the Mac.

Coming from using the iOS app, though, the only place I found things hard to get used to was the ‘long click’ that replaces a long press on iOS and iPadOS for completing a task or entering editing mode, for example. On balance, though, I think Streaks’ long history and large audience on iOS largely negate the downsides of its atypical interactions.

All the core features of Streaks on iOS and iPadOS are available on the Mac too.

All the core features of Streaks on iOS and iPadOS are available on the Mac too.

By and large, the functionality of the Mac version of Streaks is the same as the iOS and iPadOS versions. However, as you would expect, platform-specific settings that don’t make sense on a Mac, like Face ID and management of the Apple Watch app, are missing.

iCloud sync works well overall, too, syncing habit data, but not settings, running timers, and themes, which is also the case on the iPhone and iPad. However, I’ve noticed in my testing that the Mac version of Streaks is occasionally slow to update with changes from iOS. Even so, the two versions didn’t stay out of sync long since the apps coordinate their data every time the Catalyst app is reopened.

Streaks is a fantastic addition to the Mac by virtue of its nature as an activity tracker. It’s an app that fills a gap. If I don’t have my iPhone nearby, there’s a very good chance I’m working on my Mac or iPad. The inclusion of a Mac version of Streaks, like the iPad support that came before it, reduces the friction of tracking a new habit I’m trying to form, giving me even fewer excuses not to keep on top of my goals. As a result, even though I don’t expect to use the Mac app as often as Streaks on my iPhone, I’m glad I have that option now.

For more on Streaks, check out my reviews of the original app, as well as versions 3 and 4. Streaks for the Mac is available on the Mac App Store for $4.99.


macOS Will Soon Support Universal Apps, Enabling a Single Purchase for Mac, iPhone, and iPad Apps

As first spotted by Steve Troughton-Smith, release notes for the latest beta build of Xcode include a major development: Mac apps can soon be included as universal purchases with their iPhone and iPad companions.

Universal apps currently enable you to make a single purchase to gain access to both iPhone and iPad versions of an app. Nearly all cross-platform developers default to this option, though some still sell separate iPhone and iPad apps. macOS has never been included as part of universal apps though, even after Mac Catalyst launched last year. That sounds like it’s going to change when the latest OS updates – iOS and iPadOS 13.4 and macOS 10.15.4 – arrive this spring.

With universal app support, developers will be able to charge users a single time to grant access to Mac, iPhone, and iPad versions of their app. As Apple’s release notes state, this option in Xcode will be on by default for apps built with Catalyst, but it will also be available to non-Catalyst apps that are offered on the Mac App Store. While this change won’t be the best option for all developers, especially considering the different business dynamics of Mac and iOS apps, it makes sense for iPad developers who bring their apps to the Mac with Catalyst and don’t want to deal with the complication of a separate purchase system.


Mac Power Users, Episode 513 – Catalyst Apps on the Mac, with John Voorhees

It was a pleasure to spend time with David Sparks and Stephen Hackett talking about Catalyst apps on the Mac for episode 513 of Mac Power Users. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and covering Catalyst for the past 18 months since Apple gave developers a sneak peek at it during WWDC in 2018, so it was a lot of fun to join Sparks and Hackett to take stock of where Catalyst stands today and where it’s heading. Of course, we also covered a long list of our favorite Catalyst apps.

To listen, you can subscribe in your favorite podcast player or head over to Relay FM.

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Mac Catalyst Isn’t Only for Bringing iPad Apps to the Mac for the First Time

So far, the most common path to releasing a Mac Catalyst app on the Mac App Store has been to adapt and release an existing iPadOS app as a first-time Mac app. However, that’s not the only route to the Mac App Store. Apple allows developers to use Mac Catalyst in a variety of ways, as Steve Troughton-Smith has demonstrated with HCC Solitaire, a Mac-only game built using Mac Catalyst. He and Brian Mueller, the creator of CARROT Weather, have also used Mac Catalyst to release new versions of Mac apps that were previously built with AppKit.

As Troughton-Smith’s HCC Solitaire confirms, developers are not required to have an iPad app on the App Store to release an app on the Mac App Store using Mac Catalyst.

The game is an implementation of classic solitaire that’s just $0.99 and displays no ads. Perhaps most interesting from a developer standpoint, though, is that you won’t find HCC Solitaire if you search for an iOS or iPadOS version on the App Store. Troughton-Smith built the game using UIKit and the tools provided as part of Mac Catalyst without also creating an iPadOS version.

Brian Mueller's CARROT Weather.

Brian Mueller’s CARROT Weather.

Mac Catalyst apps can also be swapped in for existing Mac apps. That’s what Brian Mueller did with CARROT Weather, which was launched the day macOS Catalina was released as version 4.13 of his existing AppKit app. Troughton-Smith took the same approach with SameGame, a color-matching game in which you earn points by eliminating contiguous blocks that are the same color, releasing version 2.2 shortly after Catalina’s release.

Steve Troughton-Smith's SameGame.

Steve Troughton-Smith’s SameGame.

I don’t expect either of these approaches to become the main way that Mac Catalyst apps are released, but I’m glad to see that it’s possible. Most developers will be bringing an iPadOS app to the Mac for the first time, but business models, developer backgrounds, the APIs used in an app, and many other variables play a role in the decision of whether to use Mac Catalyst. It’s encouraging to see Apple take a flexible approach and allow developers to experiment because that makes Mac Catalyst useful to more of them. However, as I noted in my Catalina review and elsewhere, that flexibility needs to be coupled with bug fixes, documentation, and rapid evolution of Mac Catalyst for it to become a viable option for a wider audience of developers.


MakePass: Create Your Own Apple Wallet Passes on the Mac

I often find myself reaching for my iPhone or iPad to do something that can’t be done at all or as quickly on my Mac. If I’m already working at my desk in front of my Mac, though, that requires a context switch that slows me down and often leads to being distracted by something else. One of the areas where this happens most frequently is with specialized, single-purpose utilities that are plentiful on iOS and iPadOS, but often unavailable on the Mac.

A terrific example that just debuted on the Mac as a Mac Catalyst app is MakePass, an app for generating Apple Wallet passes. Whether it’s a health club membership card, bus pass, grocery store loyalty card, or concert ticket, MakePass can turn them all into digital passes stored inside Apple’s Wallet app where they are organized and out of the way.

Several apps offer functionality similar to MakePass’ on the iOS and iPadOS App Store. However, my searches turned up none on the Mac App Store. That may be because Apple’s Wallet app is an iPhone-only app, but it’s handy to be able to make passes on your Mac too because that’s one of the places where codes come into your life.

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The Important Role Design Plays in Building a Mac Catalyst App

There’s more to migrating an iPad app to the Mac than simply checking a box in Xcode. Although developers need to resort to AppKit APIs used to build Mac apps for some functionality, thoughtful design that respects the interaction model of the Mac is a significant part of the process too.

Vidit Bhargava is the designer behind the dictionary app LookUp and the cofounder of Squircle Apps. Bhargava, who we interviewed in the most recent issue of MacStories Weekly for Club MacStories, has written an in-depth look at how much of the process of bringing LookUp’s iPad app to the Mac was about design. As he explains:

I’m sharing this design document to highlight some of the design considerations I made for bringing LookUp’s iOS App to macOS. And while I did use fall backs to AppKit in certain situations (Even though I had no prior knowledge to AppKit, the APIs were relatively easy to get to), I still feel that a lot of apps can design a good experience without having to use them.

We’ve covered the iOS and iPadOS version of LookUp before and love it. On the Mac, there are dozens of little touches implemented throughout the app that make LookUp one of the best examples of an excellent Mac Catalyst app. What I find most fascinating is how familiar but also unmistakably Mac-like LookUp’s Mac design is, which is why it was one of a handful of apps that I spotlighted in my macOS Catalina review.

Bhargava’s full post is worth a read because it’s fully-illustrated with examples of the differences between the iPad and Mac designs, early prototypes, and the evolution of the app’s design.

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Despite Some Rough Edges, Twitter’s Mac Catalyst App Provides an iPad-like Experience That’s Better Than the Company’s Web App

Twitter is back on the Mac with an all-new Catalyst app. Twitter abandoned its Mac app early last year with a late Friday tweet:

Given the lack of support for the app leading up to that point, Twitter’s actions weren’t surprising. However, that left Mac users with only Twitter’s web app or third-party apps until yesterday, when the company released a Mac Catalyst version of their iPad app.

Twitter’s iPad app isn’t known for a strong design:

Four years have passed since Federico tweeted that and Twitter’s iPad client hasn’t gotten much better, which left me skeptical about what a Mac Catalyst version of Twitter’s app would look like. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the port works on the Mac despite some rough edges.

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RSS Client Lire Arrives on Mac App Store with One of the Best Early Catalyst Implementations

In June I wrote about my hopes for Catalyst, the technology that allows iPadOS developers to bring their iPad apps to the Mac. At the time, I said that RSS clients were one of the categories of apps I wanted to see brought from the iPad to the Mac first. That wasn’t because there are no options on the Mac. For instance, I recently reviewed NetNewsWire, which is excellent. However, there are very few options if you want an app that’s available on the Mac, iOS, and iPadOS, supports a rich set of features, and is actively maintained. That’s why I was pleased to see that lire, one of my favorite RSS readers on iOS and iPadOS, was released this week on the Mac using Catalyst.

If you’ve used lire on an iPad, you’ll immediately feel at home when you open the app on the Mac for the first time. The layout is similar to the iPad version, with one notable exception: instead of the two columns you see on the iPad, lire displays three columns on the Mac. This means you can view your list of subscriptions, articles, and a selected article simultaneously. On the iPad, the article view is separate from your subscriptions and article list. It’s a small design change that makes a lot of sense on the Mac, where screens are usually larger than the iPad. I would, however, like to have the option of hiding the first two columns, which is not currently possible, though they can be resized.

If you use lire with an RSS syncing service like I do, once you log in you can browse sources in the first column by subscription and tag. Like the iOS and iPadOS versions, the first column also includes Discover and Folders sections. Discover collects Hot Links, which are URLs that frequently appear among your feeds, Calm Feeds for sites that don’t publish often, linked list articles, posts organized by author, and articles published recently, which you can define in the app’s preferences. As you’d expect, folders are user-defined sets of feeds.

Articles and images can be opened in separate windows.

Articles and images can be opened in separate windows.

The article list can be filtered in nine different ways, and there’s a toolbar button to mark everything as read. Right-clicking an article summary provides options to open it in a separate window, mark it as read or unread, star it, mark the articles above or below it as read, mark everything as read, send it to a read-later service, or share it via the system share sheet or lire’s custom share options. The many options make the article list a fantastic way to filter and scan through a large number of articles and manage the ones you want to follow up on and share with other apps.

There are separate appearance settings for article view, which is a nice way to manage the amount of information available independently from the subscription and article list. The article view also includes buttons for marking the currently-viewed article as unread, starring and tagging it, navigational arrows, and a share button that includes share options supplied by the macOS share system as well as custom ones like ‘Copy Link,’ ‘Pin Author,’ ‘Download as EPUB,’ and more.

I’ve used a lot of different RSS readers, and lire has always stood out because it can be customized in so many different ways. The app also does a better job than most other RSS clients of pulling the full text of an article from an RSS feed that offers truncated versions of its articles only. Although some features of the iOS and iPadOS apps aren’t available on the Mac yet, such as theming, I’ve been impressed with the level of customization that’s been brought over so far.

Unlike many other Catalyst apps, lire includes a separate preferences window.

Unlike many other Catalyst apps, lire includes a separate preferences window.

However, what makes lire one of the best Catalyst adaptations of an iPad app that I’ve seen so far is its attention to detail on the Mac. It’s a collection of smaller touches that make the app feel more at home on the Mac than most other Catalyst apps. For example, lire includes tooltips when you hover the pointer over the buttons in its toolbar. That’s something that isn’t automatically available to Catalyst apps, so few apps have adopted it so far. Lire has also implemented custom right-click context menus throughout the app to access share, view, mark as read, and other options. The app also makes extensive use of keyboard shortcuts and allows for links to be opened in your default browser in the background, something that far too few AppKit apps offer. I also appreciate that lire uses a separate Preferences window instead of a popup view that hovers over but is still part of the app’s main window, which many Catalyst apps do.

lire makes extensive use of context menus throughout.

lire makes extensive use of context menus throughout.

RSS feeds have benefitted from the healthy app competition found on iOS and iPadOS, pushing power user features forward at a rapid pace. The Mac’s RSS scene hasn’t been nearly as active in the past, but with the addition of lire and Fiery Feeds, which also launched on the Mac App Store for the first time this week, my hope is that we’ll see a resurgence of RSS readers on the Mac App Store with innovative new features.

Lire is available on the Mac App Store for $19.99.


PCalc Developer James Thomson Shares His Catalyst Experience

James Thomson, the creator of PCalc, has written about his experience with Catalyst. Thomson, who was one of the developers that spoke with Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman about the challenges Catalyst poses to developers and their customers, expounds on what he told Gurman, saying about PCalc that:

It became pretty clear to me that I would need to rewrite a lot of the user interface, to find a happy middle ground between the iPad and the Mac. Which would probably benefit both in the long run, to be fair. But with everything else that was going on this summer, I couldn’t justify that work, with no guarantees at the end of the day that I would have something I was happy to ship. So, I mainly focused my time on things like Shortcuts and Dark Mode, and iOS 13 support in general.

Thomson goes on to explain that while it was simple to get a version of PCalc’s iOS app running on the Mac, the APIs for dealing with macOS-specific features felt rough and unfinished.

That’s something I’ve heard from a lot of developers who were initially excited about Catalyst. They also had their hands full dealing with iOS and iPadOS 13, and bugs in both OSes slowed them down over the summer. As a result, many put their Catalyst plans on the back burner.

Thomson also says that:

Documentation for Catalyst has been almost non-existent too, which has made things a lot harder than they should be.

From the business side, there is also no way for somebody to get the Catalyst version of the app for free when they buy the iOS version. And no great way to share in-app purchases either if you have a free app. That generally means that somebody will have to pay a second time to get a copy.

Instead of pushing forward with a Catalyst version of PCalc, which is already available for the Mac as a traditional AppKit app, Thomson created a Catalyst version of Dice by PCalc, his physics-based multi-sided dice simulation that can be used for games like Dungeons & Dragons. Based on his experience with Dice, which is available on the Mac App Store now, Thomson concluded that Catalyst isn’t far enough along to build a version of PCalc that is better than his existing Mac app, but he remains hopeful that the situation will improve.

From what I’ve heard from developers, Thomson is not alone in his experience with Catalyst. That’s not to say there aren’t useful apps being made with Catalyst, but so far, the pool of apps is small, and if it’s going to grow, Catalyst is going to have to evolve rapidly.

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