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So, what’s the plan? Part 2: what will the plan be?

In Part One, I explored the time of transition from Mac OS 8 to Mac OS X (not a typo: Mac OS 9 came out during the transition period). From a software development perspective, this included the Carbon and Cocoa UI frameworks. I mooted the possibility that Apple’s plan was “erm, actually, Java” and that this failed to come about not because Apple didn’t try, but because developers and users didn’t care. The approach described by Steve Jobs, of working out what the customer wants and working backwards to the technology, allowed them to be flexible about their technology roadmap and adapt to a situation where Cocoa on Objective-C, and Carbon on C and C++, were the tools of choice.[*]

So this time, we want to understand what the plan is. The technology choices available are, in the simplistic version: SwiftUI, Swift Catalyst/UIKit, ObjC Catalyst/UIKit, Swift AppKit, ObjC AppKit. In the extended edition, we see that Apple still supports the “sweet solution” of Javascript on the web, and despite trying previously to block them still permits various third-party developer systems: Javascript in React Native, Ionic, Electron, or whatever’s new this week; Xamarin.Forms, JavaFX, Qt, etc.

What the Carbon/Cocoa plan tells us is that this isn’t solely Apple’s plan to implement. They can have whatever roadmap they want, but if developers aren’t on it it doesn’t mean much. This is a good thing: if Apple had sufficient market dominance not to be reasonably affected by competitive forces or market trends, then society would have a problem and the US DOJ or the EU Directorate-General for Competition would have to weigh in. If we don’t want to use Java, we won’t use Java. If enough of us are still using Catalyst for our apps, then they’re supporting Catalyst.

Let’s put this into the context of #heygate.

These apps do not offer in-app purchase — and, consequently, have not contributed any revenue to the App Store over the last eight years.

— Rejection letter from Apple, Inc. to Basecamp

When Steve Jobs talked about canning OpenDoc, it was in the context of a “consistent vision” that he could take to customers to motivate “eight billion, maybe ten billion dollars” of sales. It now takes Apple about five days to make that sort of money, so they’re probably looking for something more than that. We could go as far as to say that any technology that contributes to non-revenue-generating apps is an anti-goal for Apple, unless they can conclusively point to a halo effect (it probably costs Apple quite a bit to look after Facebook, but not having it would be platform suicide, for example).

From Tim Cook’s and Craig Federighi’s height, these questions about “which GUI framework should we promote” probably don’t even show up on the radar. Undoubtedly SwiftUI came up with the SLT before its release, but the conversation probably looked a lot like “developers say they can iterate on UIs really quickly with React, so I’ve got a TPM with a team of ten people working on how we counter that.” “OK, cool.” A fraction of a percent of the engineering budget to nullify a gap between the native tools and the cross-platform things that work on your stack anyway? OK, cool.

And, by the way, it’s a fraction of a percent of the engineering budget because Apple is so gosh-darned big these days. To say that “Apple” has a “UI frameworks plan” is a bit like saying that the US navy has a fast destroyers plan: sure, bits of it have many of them.

At the senior level, the “plan” is likely to be “us” versus “not us”, where all of the technologies you hear of in somewhere like ATP count as “us”. The Java thing didn’t pan out, Sun went sideways in the financial crisis of 2007, how do we make sure that doesn’t happen again?

And even then, it’s probably more like “preferably us” versus “not us, but better with us”: if people want to use cross-platform tools, and they want to do it on a Mac, then they’re still buying Macs. If they support Sign In With Apple, and Apple Pay, then they still “contribute any revenue to the App Store”, even if they’re written in Haskell.

Apple made the Mac a preeminent development and deployment platform for Java technology. One year at WWDC I met some Perl hackers in a breakout room, then went to the Presidio to watch a brown bag session by Python creator Guido van Rossum. When Rails became big, everyone bought a Mac Laptop and a Textmate license, to edit their files for their Linux web apps.

Apple lives in an ecosystem, and it needs help from other partners, it needs to help other partners. And relationships that are destructive don’t help anybody in this industry as it is today. … We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose, OK? We have to embrace the notion that for Apple to win, Apple has to do a really good job.

— Steve Jobs, 1997


[*] even this is simplistic. I don’t want to go overboard here, but definitely would point out that Apple put effort into supporting Swing with native-esque controls on Java, language bridges for Perl, Python, Ruby, an entire new runtime for Ruby, in addition to AppleScript, Automator, and a bunch of other programming environments for other technologies like I/O Kit. Like the man said, sometimes the wrong choice is taken, but that’s good because at least it means someone was making a decision.

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