Gurman on Catalyst’s Shaky Debut

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg:1

But the first iteration, which appears to still be quite raw and in a number of ways frustrating to developers, risks upsetting users who may have to pay again when they download the Mac version of an iPad app they’ve already bought.

I get this, and Gurman has reported previously that one goal of the Marzipan/Catalyst project is to have universal apps that work across iOS/iPadOS/MacOS, the way that the exact same app can work on both iOS and iPadOS today. But Catalyst is a developer technology. Users have no idea what it is and shouldn’t need to. “You have to pay for iPad and Mac versions separately” doesn’t seem like a big deal to me because it’s been that way all along, regardless of Catalyst.

Worse, the expectation that you should pay only once for both iPad and Mac versions of an app makes it hard for developers of commercial software to justify doing a Mac app, period. The rest of Gurman’s article is about how much work it takes to create a good Mac app even with Catalyst.

Developers have found several problems with Apple’s tools for bringing iPad apps over to Mac computers. Some features that only make sense on iPad touchscreens, such as scrollable lists that help users select dates and times on calendars, are showing up on the Mac, where the input paradigm is still built around a keyboard and mouse or trackpad.

Troughton-Smith said Mac versions of some apps can’t hide the mouse cursor while video is playing. He’s also found problems with video recording and two-finger scrolling in some cases, along with issues with using the keyboard and full-screen mode in video games. Thomson, the PCalc developer, said some older Mac computers struggle to handle Catalyst apps that use another Apple system called SceneKit for 3-D gaming and animations.

Other than that, how do you like the APIs, Mrs. Lincoln?

Two anticipated Catalyst apps, featured on Apple’s website since June, were abruptly removed this week: the video-playing and comic-book-browsing DC Universe and the car-racing game Asphalt 9. Gameloft, which makes the racing game, said on Tuesday that the title has been “slightly delayed” in order to “polish the experience” and that it will launch later this year.

At WWDC in early June — four months ago — Apple showcased the catalyzed Asphalt 9 port on stage, with the following quote from Gameloft: “We had Asphalt 9: Legends for Mac running on the first day. It looks stunning and runs super fast using Metal on powerful Mac hardware.”

Maybe it’s not so easy, and maybe Catalyst is not good for games.

One last tidbit from Gurman:

However, Netflix Inc., the largest U.S. video-streaming service with the second most popular free iPad app, said on Tuesday that it won’t be taking part.

That’s all Gurman says about Netflix. No quote, no link to a Netflix statement. There have been no rumblings about a native Mac app — and word on the street has suggested it is not in the works — but Gurman reports this as categorical.

It’s a shame, because there are two features a native Netflix Mac app could deliver that you can’t get through their website using a Mac: downloads for offline viewing (essential for air travel) and 4K video. 4K might eventually get support from WebKit, but there’s no way Netflix could ever allow offline downloads from the website. I’m not sure what Netflix’s calculus is here, but the simple truth is that if Netflix wanted a native Mac app they would have made one long ago.