iOS Apps We Would Love to See Run on Macs

BY Rohan Naravane

Published 4 Feb 2018

The iOS App Store has been one of the three pillars of Apple’s mobile growth story — the other two being the hardware and the operating system. Since 2008, it’s home to over two million apps designed to work on iPhones, with nearly half of them optimised for the bigger-screened iPads.

After the roaring success of iOS App Store, Apple launched the Mac App Store two years later, in 2010. But unlike its mobile-centric cousin, this App Store hasn’t seen much traction. Apple hasn’t yet published the number of apps on the Mac App Store and probably for a good reason — those numbers possibly aren’t great. According to popular app directory AppShopper, out of the 1.6 million total apps listed, only about 30,000 of them are Mac apps.

So, Why Isn’t The Mac App Store Popular?

You can’t really blame developers for not being enthusiastic about developing apps for Apple’s legacy computing platform. The cheapest Mac (not counting the Mac mini) is several hundred dollars above the average selling price of a PC running Windows or Linux. Adding to that, the computer market has been on a decline for over half a decade. This results in far fewer macOS devices than iOS devices, the latter of which runs on inexpensive products like the $300 iPhone SE or iPad 2017.

Also, unlike iOS, where the App Store is the only route to install apps, you can install apps on a Mac using a DMG installer file too. Therefore, developers have the choice of distributing DMG files of their apps freely on the internet, instead of getting them listed on the App Store. There are several reasons (listed below) why some devs prefer the former. For instance, apps like VLC Player, Spotify, TunnelBear, uTorrent, Microsoft Office, etc are available for download only via the creators’ websites.

Pros and Cons of The Mac App Store

There are several advantages to having a centralized repository of apps. It becomes easier to discover new apps by going to one place, instead of stumbling upon them on the internet. Apps installed from the Mac App Store also run in a sandbox, promising more security and reliability than apps installed from elsewhere, that potentially could contain malicious code. App updates are also taken care of by the App Store platform. Developers also don’t have to worry about distributing their app, handling transactions, etc. And as a user, you don’t have to share your payment details with every service separately either.

But, developers have voiced several disadvantages too. For example, strict guidelines neuter the functionality of certain apps. There’s no subscription model yet, which apps like Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Office 365 are based on. There’s no try-before-you-buy mechanism either. Then there are other issues like the developers’ inability to respond to customer reviews, or the ability to sell upgrades to existing customers. Lastly, developers are under the mercy of Apple’s app review team for an app to be approved into the Mac App Store.

What’s Apple Doing About This?

In December 2017, Bloomberg reported that Apple is contemplating to combine iPhone, iPad and Mac apps into one unified platform. Essentially, the company will provide developers the necessary tools to create a single app that will run on both iOS and macOS.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because the approach is similar to Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP), that it introduced with Windows 10. This platform enables developers to write a single app that’ll work on computers, smartphones, the Xbox gaming console and Hololens, all of which are powered by Windows 10. Next we have Google bringing Android apps to Chrome OS — the search giant’s pro-cloud, browser-as-an-operating-system.

The goal for Microsoft or Google are the same as Apple — to bring more apps to their respective computing platforms. Windows is the most widely used PC operating system in the world, yet most of its apps are still available outside the Windows Store. Chrome OS conceptually wasn’t supposed to have apps — until Google realized that not all experiences are ideal on the web.

Apple’s motivations are similar — although it’s had a fully-functioning App Store for the Mac for the past eight years, two issues still exist. One, not enough app developers are taking the effort to make a Mac version of their app. And two, even if they make a Mac app, the pace of its development is generally not as fast as its iOS counterpart.

iOS Apps We Would Love to See Run on Macs

Here are some of the iOS apps we would love to see run on Macs. Here are some examples.

1) Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play Music, Saavn

If you think of media apps, many services have created iOS versions of their app, but haven’t invested into making a Mac version. You’ve got video streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube. Then there are music streaming apps like Google Play Music or Saavn in India. Lastly, there are podcast apps like PocketCasts and Overcast.

So, what benefit would users derive from these apps coming to the Mac, instead of simply using the service on the web? In this case, you’ll be able to use media playback controls on your Mac, which typically work only for native apps and not for media playing in the browser. Next, most of these apps also allow downloading content for offline use, only if you’re using their app (not via the website). For example, Netflix has an app for Windows 10 computers which, like the iOS and Android apps, lets users download select content on PCs. If the Netflix iOS app moved to the Mac, we don’t see why this functionality wouldn’t extend to the Mac as well.


2) WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Twitter

Next, we have several messaging apps that could benefit from this. Facebook Messenger doesn’t exist for the Mac, whereas the WhatsApp Mac app is severely limited in function when compared to its mobile apps. For example, you can’t make audio or video calls, or annotate images before sending them in the latter.

Speaking of feature deficiencies, probably the biggest benefactor in my opinion would be the official Twitter app. The Twitter for Mac app that exists today is completely out-of-sync with the Twitter mobile apps or the website. Features like the increased 280 character limit, and Twitter threads are still not made available. But more importantly, the Mac app is plagued with inconsistencies and buggy behavior. Companies like Twitter, that are finding it hard to maintain two separate versions of their app, will highly benefit if Apple merges the two App Stores.

3) Google Assistant, Google Docs, Instagram

There are a few other examples of iOS apps that we’d appreciate having on the Mac. For example, the Google Assistant app would be welcome because it could hopefully be invoked with a keyboard shortcut, similar to Spotlight or Siri. Google Docs, Sheets and Slide iOS apps could come in handy when creating a new document offline. Having the Instagram iOS app would mean you could finally post pictures from your computer (Instagram’s web version doesn’t allow posting pictures, only viewing them).

Subtle Advantages of Having an iOS App Ported to The Mac

Generally speaking, an installed app would mean proper system notifications that get collected in the Notification Center, and don’t just disappear like browser notifications.

There is one last unintentional advantage — if iOS apps gain keyboard and mouse pointer input, it means that technically iPads could support mouse input too. The wait for the ultimate tablet-computer combination might just be over.

So, do you think iOS apps coming to the Mac is a good idea? Or do you think it signals a threat to the open system of the Macintosh, where future macOS computers could be closed, just like iOS? Let’s discuss in the comments below.