Apple has big plans for its core platform and biggest moneymaker. According to a report from Bloomberg, Apple is preparing to combine the apps that run on its iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. The idea is to make it easier for application developers to create apps that work across the Apple hardware ecosystem.
Developers have heard this pitch before. Microsoft bet heavily that developers would want to write universal apps that could run on Windows PCs, Windows tablets, and Windows phones. Despite its majority share of the PC market, Microsoft's plans didn't quite work out. The lack of mobile apps for Windows Mobile forced buyers to turn to Apple's iOS and Google's Android, where millions of apps are available. Microsoft eventually scuttled its mobile platform.
Apple apparently thinks it can succeed where Microsoft failed. It has a huge percentage of the mobile market, so there's a chance it's thinking is on target.
By 2021, Apple hopes to make it possible for developers to build an app once and have it function properly on phones, tablets, and computers. The plan, codenamed Marzipan, according to sources cited by Bloomberg, has been in the works for some time.
Apple has been wildly successful in convincing developers to write apps for the iPhone. It cuts billions of dollars worth of checks to developers each quarter. Apps for Mac computers are not so numerous, and don't generate as much revenue. Revenue is what Apple seeks in this gambit. Apple takes a percentage of app purchases, app subscriptions, and in-app purchases. We know this by the rising services income listed in Apple's quarterly financials. More apps running on more devices should equate to more opportunity to earn.
The first step will have developers port apps they've written for the iPad to the Mac. This makes perfect sense. iPads and Macs share similar screen sizes and shapes. In June, Apple will release a new SDK at its Worldwide Developer Conference that will make this possible. Developers will be able to write a single app that runs on the iPad and the Mac, though each will still need to be submitted to the iTunes and Mac App Stores independently.
Next year, in 2020, Apple will update the SDK so apps written for the iPhone can be ported to the Mac. It's not as clear how developers will have to account for the dramatic difference in the screen size and shape when comparing iPhones to Macs.
Finally, by 2021, developers should be able to merge their Mac, iPhone, and iPad apps into a single binary. The cross-platform apps will only need to be sumitted to Apple for approval once, rather than individually for each app store.
What's not known is the fate of Apple's two main operating systems: iOS and macOS. Pundits have long held that Apple will eventually create a single platform for its phones and PCs, but we've seen no hint of it yet. This may be the first step towards that eventual paradigm shift.
Apple did not comment on Bloomberg's story.