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Apple suggests truly universal apps are coming soon

Project Catalyst
Project Catalyst (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • We are ever-closer to truly universal Apple apps.
  • Cupertino released the first Xcode 11.4 beta today, February 5.
  • The company also released the first developer beta versions of iOS 13.4 and iPadOS 13.4.

This article has been updated to confirm that Xcode 11.4 will allow developers to bundle macOS apps with iPadOS and iOS apps, so that users can by them all with a single purchase.

The first Xcode 11.4 beta includes some big news for developers and Apple device users alike. As of March 2020, developers will be able to distribute and sell their iOS, iPadOS and macOS apps as a single bundle, which means we are closer than ever to universal apps. This means that if the developer enables the feature and you buy their app, your purchase will get you a copy of that app for both Mac and iOS.

By default, universal purchase will be enabled for new Mac Catalyst apps created in Xcode 11.4, and they'll use the same bundle identifier as an iOS app.

Currently, developers can release one app for both iPhone and iPad. By making the changes mentioned above, Apple's definition of universal app could soon officially change to also include macOS.

According to the Xcode 11.4 beta release notes:

Xcode 11.4 supports building and distributing macOS apps as a universal purchase. To distribute your macOS app as a universal purchase, specify the same bundle identifier as your iOS app in the Xcode template assistant when creating a new project. If you have an existing project, edit its bundle identifier in the Project Editor.Universal purchase is enabled by default for new Mac Catalyst apps created in Xcode 11.4. When you create a new Mac Catalyst app, it will use the same bundle identifier as your iOS app.Automatic signing in Xcode 11.4 supports building Mac Catalyst apps with a custom bundle identifier. You can edit the bundle identifier of your app using the Signing & Capabilities tab in the Project Editor. If you choose to build your Mac Catalyst app with a custom bundle identifier that does not match your iOS app, you will not be able to distribute the app as a universal purchase.

First announced in June 2019, Catalyst let developers create iPad apps that can also run on Mac. The software-development tool was officially released with iPadOS 13 and macOS Catalina last fall.

The first Xcode 11.4 beta was released to developers today, February 5, alongside the first beta developer versions of iOS 13.4, iPadOS 13.4, and watchOS 6.2.

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.

1 Comment
  • Hey, Brian. So, as you know the ability to make Catalyst Mac apps has been available since Catalina's release. It seems to me this article is looking at it from and end-user standpoint, in the hope that a single purchase would let user's use all the versions. I just want to point out that this isn't completely in developers' interests. There's a lot more to making a good Catalyst Mac app than simply checking the checkbox in Xcode, and developer's need a financial incentive for doing the work to scale these apps up. There's nothing stopping developers from offering their Catalyst apps for free now, all this changes it that the user pays once, and gets all the versions. The price has to reflect that, somehow, even if the user doesn't use them all. I don't think that the lack of free software is the biggest ill in the world; unlike Stallman and the FSF, I actually am totally OK with the business model of selling a piece of software for money, and I am totally OK with paying additionally for the MacOS version, even if there is a preponderance of shared code between the iPadOS and MacOS Catalyst versions. The fact is, if it gives me value, and it works well, and especially if the developer supports it, and it doesn't spy on me, and I can install it on any Mac in my family, I do not resent paying for it. To quote 1984, 'Freedom is slavery'. Or to be more specific, everything costs something. If you don't pay for that MacOS version, the developer has to recoup their costs somehow. Maybe they'll recoup it from you (like the web does).