Developer outlines his experience with Apple's Catalyst

Project Catalyst
Project Catalyst (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • PCalc dev James Thomson spoke with Bloomberg.
  • He spoke about Catalyst and the issues it has.
  • Bringing iPad apps to macOS still takes too much work.

James Thomson is a name that many will recognize. He's the man behind PCalc among many things and he's been speaking with Bloomberg's Mark Gurman about the difficulty of turning an iPad app into a Mac app using Catalyst.

The selling point of Catalyst, when Apple announced it during June's WWDC event, was that developers would be able to get iPad apps running on a Mac without starting afresh. Apps would require some work, but wholesale changes wouldn't be needed. But when Thomson set about moving PCalc to macOS it didn't take long to realize that it would be a big undertaking.

It became pretty clear to me that I would need to rewrite a lot of the user interface, to find a happy middle ground between the iPad and the Mac. Which would probably benefit both in the long run, to be fair. But with everything else that was going on this summer, I couldn't justify that work, with no guarantees at the end of the day that I would have something I was happy to ship. So, I mainly focused my time on things like Shortcuts and Dark Mode, and iOS 13 support in general.

That friction between working on a Catalyst app or getting PCalc ready for the new features that iOS 13 would afford is something a lot of developers would have had to deal with. Ultimately, developers and their apps go where the eyeballs – and dollars – are. Getting PCalc running on macOS is one thing, but getting it running correctly and making it look like a Mac app still takes time. And it's time that developers often don't have.

John Voorhees of MacStories, himself a recovering developer, is right when he says that it's Catalyst that needs to grow to help developers use it. Not developers who need to cope with Catalyst's faults.

From what I've heard from developers, Thomson is not alone in his experience with Catalyst. That's not to say there aren't useful apps being made with Catalyst, but so far, the pool of apps is small, and if it's going to grow, Catalyst is going to have to evolve rapidly.

But as with so many attempts at making macOS attractive to developers, there's no guarentee Apple will follow through.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.