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Posts tagged with "Catalyst"

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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Catalyst’s Rough Edges Risk Alienating Developers and Users Alike

Catalyst, the technology that allows developers to bring their iPadOS apps to the Mac, is off to an uneven start, as Mark Gurman of Bloomberg recounts through interviews with several developers. According to the developers interviewed, there’s a big difference between getting an iPad app up and running on a Mac, and using it to build a high-quality Mac app. According to Gurman:

[PCalc developer James] Thomson said the Mac version of his iPad calculator app initially looked like an iPad app floating on a larger Mac screen, so he had to redesign much of the user-facing software. However, all of the lower-level code pretty much worked out of the box, he said. Lukas Burgstaller said it was initially easy to copy over his Fiery Feeds iPad app, but then he “ran into all sorts of walls” trying to adapt the software to a Mac interface.

Those and other rough edges experienced by developers are exacerbated by a long-standing limitation of the Mac App Store: Mac apps can’t be bundled with iOS and iPadOS apps. That means developers have no choice but to charge separately for their new Catalyst apps, risking the ire of customers.

Although I remain optimistic about Catalyst, it’s off to a rougher start than I’d hoped, as I discuss in my macOS Catalina review. The quality of the relatively small crop of early Catalyst apps demonstrates that the technology holds promise, but Apple needs to move quickly to close the gaps. Otherwise the company risks alienating both developers and users, which would be a significant blow to its Mac strategy.

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macOS Catalina: The MacStories Review

Ironically, Apple chose to name this year’s update to macOS after an island. Since the iPhone and iOS took off, macOS has sometimes felt like an island isolated from the rest of the company’s OSes, but the goal articulated by the company at WWDC this year was quite the opposite. Apple clearly telegraphed that change is coming to the Mac and it’s designed to bridge the user experiences between each of its platforms.

To developers, that message came in the form of Catalyst and SwiftUI. Catalyst, which was previewed as an unnamed ‘Sneak Peek’ in 2018, is meant to make it easier for iPadOS developers to bring their apps to the Mac. SwiftUI has a similar longer-term goal of unifying and streamlining how developers build the interfaces for their apps across a range of devices, for everything from the Apple Watch to the Mac.

The efforts to draw macOS in closer with Apple’s other operating systems run deeper than just developer tools though. macOS may have been the foundation on which iOS was built, but in the years that followed iOS’s introduction, the two OSes grew apart. Identically-named apps were developed on different schedules, which meant they rarely included the same features. Also, system-level functionality like System Preferences, which serves the same purpose as iOS’s Settings app, was unfamiliar, making Mac adoption unnecessarily hard for newcomers. Catalina is an attempt to address those kinds of inconsistent user experiences.

With Catalina, Apple has taken clear, though not always successful, steps to bridge the divide between the Mac and iOS. App functionality has been realigned, System Preferences has been rearranged, and new features have been added to make it easier to move from one platform to the other.

As with other transitional periods in the Mac’s history, this one isn’t going to be easy. However, because the change is driven by a fundamental change in computing, it’s also necessary. We live in a new climate where computing is now dominated by mobile devices. For many people, a smartphone is all the computing power they need day-to-day. That doesn’t mean there’s no longer a place for the Mac, but it’s clearly what’s driving the changes in Catalina.

Apple could have chosen to ignore the shift of the ground beneath its feet and merely maintained macOS, making the kind of small incremental changes we’ve become accustomed to in recent years. However, not adapting is as deliberate a choice as change is, and it carries just as much or more uncertainty for the Mac as a platform because it risks irrelevance.

The Mac isn’t in crisis, but it isn’t healthy either. Waiting until the Mac is on life support isn’t viable. Instead, Apple has opted to reimagine the Mac in the context of today’s computing landscape before its survival is threatened. The solution is to tie macOS more closely to iOS and iPadOS, making it an integrated point on the continuum of Apple’s devices that respects the hardware differences of the platform but isn’t different simply for the sake of difference.

Transitions are inherently messy, and so is Catalina in places. It’s a work in process that represents the first steps down a new path, not the destination itself. The destination isn’t clear yet, but Catalina’s purpose is: it’s a bridge, not an island.

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GoodNotes Transitioning Mac App to Catalyst

Today on its blog GoodNotes shared that the upcoming macOS version of GoodNotes 5 would be based on the iPad app using Catalyst:

Earlier this year, we launched our all-new iOS app GoodNotes 5. It has been rewritten from scratch with a much more stable and flexible internal architecture, paving the way for the future of GoodNotes. Rewriting the iOS app also meant that we had to rewrite the MacOS companion because the new GoodNotes 5 was no longer compatible with the outdated existing Mac app. A lot of people were disappointed that we didn’t launch a Mac app together with the iOS version because they still had to stick with GoodNotes 4 if a Mac version was crucial to their workflow. Thanks to the hard work of our Mac team, we released an early-access version shortly after the iOS launch. This beta version is available for everyone who signs up for access. We shipped updates with new features and improvements on a regular basis and were almost ready to launch it publicly when Apple officially announced the start of “Project Catalyst” during their annual developer’s conference in June. It’s a framework that allows developers to bring their iPad apps to the Mac, with a relatively low effort. It still requires a lot of work to create a great Mac app but at least developers don’t have to rewrite significant portions of the code, as it was the case previously.

We believe that it is a great opportunity for us to unify the GoodNotes experience between iOS, iPadOS, and MacOS and will launch the new GoodNotes for Mac using Apple’s new framework.

GoodNotes is a noteworthy Catalyst app not just because it’s a very popular iPad app, but because it already has an existing Mac app. Catalyst makes the most sense for iPad apps that don’t currently have Mac counterparts, but GoodNotes’ plans demonstrate the advantages offered to other apps too. By adopting Catalyst and moving toward a more unified codebase, GoodNotes ensure that users on the Mac will never be left behind again, because new features can be developed and shipped on both iOS and macOS with little added effort.

Our John Voorhees, in his recent Catalyst story, listed GoodNotes as an example of a Mac app that’s fallen behind its iOS version feature-wise, so it’s great to find out that will change in the near future. The only real drawback, as noted in GoodNotes’ post, is that Catalyst apps will require macOS Catalina to run, so users on older versions of macOS won’t be able to download the new GoodNotes 5 for Mac.

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Ars Technica Interviews Apple Representatives and Developers about Catalyst

Samuel Axon spoke to developers and marketing, developer relations, and engineering representatives from Apple in a story for Ars Technica about Catalyst, Apple’s project for bringing iPad apps to the Mac.

Prior to WWDC, Apple gave a handful of companies access to Catalyst. Axon spoke to three of them about their experiences so far. Nolan O’Brian of Twitter, which discontinued its Mac app in 2016, had this to say about the experience:

“What Project Catalyst specifically offers is the ability to use our existing codebase, meaning that we don’t have to maintain separate code or a separate team to support Twitter for Mac,” he went on to say.

O’Brien said it was relatively easy to get going with the new app: “The surprising thing that got us excited about Project Catalyst was how much of our existing iOS codebase was able to just work.”

TripIt and Gameloft had similar experiences bringing their apps to the Mac.

Addressing the concern that Catalyst means the end of powerful AppKit-based apps on the Mac, Shaan Pruden, Apple’s senior director of partner management and developer relations, explained that there’s a place for ground-up AppKit apps as well as Catalyst apps:

“Good developers will know their audience and their users and what they’re going to want,” she said. “This just opens the door for lots of people to consider coming that wouldn’t have even thought about it before. And I think that’s more the target for this particular technology as opposed to someone who has a very complicated, big, heavy-lifting kind of creative app.”

Todd Benjamin, Apple’s senior director of marketing for macOS, elaborated saying that he:

…believes there are fundamentally multiple types of apps, and they’re not mutually exclusive with one another on a platform. And this is key to understanding Apple’s approach, here. He said:

I think apps on the Mac have always been these large and complex and highly capable apps that are very broad. And I think apps on iOS by nature are a little bit more focused. They’re highly designed. They’re very much considered in what they do and how they do it. And I think that’s changed how people look at apps, right?

The full story, which is full of detailed developer and Apple insights about Catalyst, is worth a read especially since it demonstrates just how nuanced the issues surrounding Catalyst are.

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Catalyst Can Rescue the Mac and Grow the iPad

At WWDC 2018, Craig Federighi provided a sneak peek at what everyone was calling Marzipan: an as-yet-unnamed way for iPad app developers to bring their apps to the Mac. So, it came as no surprise when Federighi retook the stage in 2019 and revealed more details about the project and its official name: Catalyst.

What caught a lot of developers off guard though was SwiftUI, a declarative approach to building user interfaces that was also announced at WWDC this year. SwiftUI, known before the conference as Amber, its rumored project name, was on developers’ radar almost as long as Catalyst, but it’s fair to say that few anticipated the scope of the project. The purpose of SwiftUI is to allow developers to build native user interfaces across all of Apple’s hardware platforms – from the Apple Watch to the Mac – using highly-readable, declarative syntax and a single set of tools and APIs. If that weren’t enough to get developers’ attention, using SwiftUI carries the added advantage of providing features like dark mode, dynamic type, and localization automatically.

The message from WWDC was clear: SwiftUI is the future, a unified approach to UI development designed to simplify the process of targeting multiple hardware platforms. It’s a bold, sprawling goal that will take years to refine, even if it’s eagerly adopted by developers.

However, SwiftUI also raises an interesting question: what does it mean for Catalyst? If SwiftUI is the future and spans every hardware platform, why bother bringing iPad apps to the Mac with Catalyst in the first place? It’s a fair question, but the answer is readily apparent from the very different goals of the two technologies.

SwiftUI serves the long-term goal of bringing UI development for all of Apple’s platforms under one roof and streamlining it. It won’t take over immediately though. There’s still work to be done on the framework itself, which Apple will surely expand in capability over time.

By contrast, Catalyst is a shorter-term initiative designed to address two soft spots in Apple’s lineup: the stagnation of the Mac app ecosystem, and the slow growth of pro iPad apps. The unstated assumption underlying the realignment seems to be that the two app platforms are stronger tied together than they are apart, which ultimately will protect the viability of their hardware too.

The impact of Catalyst on the Mac and iPad remains murky. It’s still too early in the process to understand what the long-term effect will be on either platform. There’s substantial execution risk that could harm the Mac or iPad, but despite some troubling signs, which I’ll get to in due course, I’m convinced that Catalyst has the potential for meaningful improvements to both platforms, especially the Mac. Let’s take a closer look at what those could be.

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