MacOS Mojave and the future of the Mac

“The Mac keeps going forever.”

So said Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller in

an interview in this very publication
on the occasion of
the computing platform’s 30th anniversary in 2014. With this
week’s release of macOS Mojave, the
modern version of the Mac’s operating system hit its fifteenth
major release, and celebrated its seventeen-and-a-half
birthday—quickly closing in on outliving its predecessor, the
classic Mac OS.

Mojave charts some new directions for the Mac, most notable of
which is the ability to run iOS apps with little to no
modification. That feature has its fair share of shortcomings
and has also caused a degree of consternation from some
longtime Mac users who don’t want peanut butter in their
chocolate.

But it seems unlikely Apple’s going to back away from the idea
of bringing more iOS into the Mac—the former is, after all, the
more popular of the company’s two platforms, and with more than
1.3 billion active devices overall, it’d be strange for Apple
not to figure out a way to bring them together. But
what’s equally clear is that Apple is trying to balance
incorporating iOS with keeping the Mac the Mac.

Interfaces

The biggest criticism levied against the iOS apps that Apple
has brought to the Mac—News, Voice Memos, Home, and Stocks—is
that they don’t feel particularly Mac-like. They’re one-window
apps with too-big buttons that seem clearly designed for a
touch-based interface. In particular, many have seized upon the
incongruity and inutility of something like iOS’s date picker
when used with a keyboard and pointing device.

applew news mojave Apple

Apple News Mac app

Meanwhile, others have wondered if the addition of these iOS
apps, with little in the way of interface changes, might
presage a touch interface coming to the Mac. I’m
far from opposed to such a thing
—touch is the default way
most people interact with their technology these days; if the
Mac is to keep going forever, it can’t remain an unchanging
monolith. As others beside me have noted, you only have to work
with an iPad and a physical keyboard for a little while to
realize how instinctive it becomes to reach up and touch the
screen. (And I know I’m not the only one to restrain themselves
from such an impulse when jumping between my iPad and my
MacBook Air.)

What we’ve seen from Apple with these apps so far is only a
proof of concept. Yes, you can move these simple apps over and
they’ll run. They aren’t optimized or really even designed for
the Mac. None of which is to say they can’t be. Over
the next couple years as Apple no doubt refines this system
we’ll get a better idea of what additional changes can be made
to iOS apps that jump to the Mac and how they can be good
citizens on this new platform.

The Mac stays in the picture

At the same time that iOS is encroaching on the Mac’s
territory, Apple is making it perfectly clear that Mojave and
the progression of the macOS isn’t about taking away features
from the Mac. Hence the renewed prominence of Quick Actions
(née Services), which not only let you perform tasks without
launching an application, but also bring the Mac’s automation
powers to the forefront. Likewise, the ability to customize
which metadata is displayed in the Finder’s preview pane. Both
of these are indications that Apple realizes who most of its
Mac users are.

Similarly, some of the under-the-hood changes to Mojave
demonstrate that Apple has been giving more thought to how the
Mac distinguishes itself from iOS. During this year’s Worldwide
Developers Conference keynote, Apple announced that some
developers—including Bare Bones Software, in whose BBEdit I’m
writing this very column—would be coming to the Mac App Store.

bare bones wwdc 2018 Apple

Apple announced at WWDC 2018 that Bare Bones is bringing
BBEdit back to the Mac App Store.

Bare Bones had previously left the Mac App Store in part
because of the more onerous requirements of macOS’s
iOS-inspired sandboxing system, which required compromising
certain powerful features of the application. The fact that
Bare Bones is returning, and that other vendors like Panic,
Microsoft, and Adobe are coming along with it, suggests that
Apple may have loosened up those restrictions.

More importantly, it points to the fact that Apple realizes
what’s important to Mac users: the programs that they run and
care about. If the Mac is the truck to iOS devices’ car in
Steve Jobs’s old analogy, well, the people buying a truck want
a truck. A Mac without these complex, long-standing
applications, or in which power features are ignored or pushed
to the back in favor of newer and shinier apps that appeal to
consumers might indeed keep going forever, as per Schiller’s
statement, but it wouldn’t be a Mac so much as a hollow shell
of one.

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