Marzipan 2021

On the latest Core Intuition we covered this Bloomberg article from Mark Gurman about Marzipan. Many bloggers have written about it this week, skeptical that Marzipan will ever produce great Mac apps, but maybe we’re not giving enough credit to Apple’s strategy. Let’s start with this part of the article:

By 2021, developers will be able to merge iPhone, iPad, and Mac applications into one app or what is known as a “single binary.” This means developers won’t have to submit their work to different Apple App Stores, allowing iOS apps to be downloaded directly from Mac computers — effectively combining the stores.

Marzipan is a multi-year effort. It exists today mostly as a prototype, not meant for developers, with obvious limitations such as iOS-like controls and sheets poking through in the UI. The next phase will be much more mature. And then by 2021 we’ll have more polish and a consistent App Store submission experience across platforms.

What we can’t predict yet is how users will react to third-party apps. An assumption in the Mac developer community is that native, all-AppKit macOS apps will always be better than iOS apps ported with Marzipan. I believe that too. Apps originally designed for the Mac will have more thought put to the windows, controls, menus — everything that makes an app Mac-like.

But familiarity might be an advantage. What if users end up preferring Marzipan apps simply because they want their apps to work exactly the same across multiple platforms? What if Marzipan is more than “good enough”, but actually exactly what users are looking for, seeing their favorite iOS apps on macOS for the first time? (Again, not the Marzipan of today, which isn’t ready, but the Marzipan of a couple years from now.)

With a unified App Store in 2021, I think it’s likely that Apple will encourage universal apps that have a single price for running across iPhone, iPad, and Mac. While this seems unfair by traditional Mac development standards — when developing for AppKit could be a completely different codebase and depth of features, justifying a separate purchase — for Marzipan it seems reasonable to pay once and get the app everywhere.

Marzipan looks like a very different transition than what we went through with Carbon and Cocoa. As I blogged about in 2003, you could start using Cocoa windows and controls directly in a Carbon app. For Marzipan, it doesn’t appear that you can mix AppKit into a UIKit app. If this holds true, it will split Mac development into 2 paths.

I plan to keep using AppKit, for now. But I wouldn’t bet against Marzipan, and I’ll be looking for what Apple says at WWDC. Not what they say about Marzipan itself, but about AppKit. If the usual “What’s New in Cocoa” session at WWDC is missing or filled with very minor tweaks to AppKit, the writing will be on the wall that UIKit is where we should put all our attention, even on the Mac.