WWDC 2019 is next week, and there’s a massive amount of buzz surrounding Apple's potential announcements. Between the slow leaks about what’s next for iOS and developer hand-wringing about cross-platform apps, we expect huge things. You won’t get everything you want, though.
Apple’s ecosystem is in a state of flux. Sure, we know a bit about what incoming macOS apps will look like, and that iOS is getting a dark mode – but that’s actually very minimal information. If we’re being critical, all we know from the recent leaks is how to design apps for the next OS versions; there's been little of substance for developers and engineers.
Substantive fodder always arrives during the WWDC keynote and subsequent sessions. Even with all the great things we can expect from WWDC this year, there are a few things we are pumping the brakes on, in terms of future announcements.
Apple's Final Answer on Cross-Platform Apps
Call it Marzipan if you like, but whatever Apple is cooking up for cross-platform apps across macOS and iOS (via iPad) will undoubtedly cast a large shadow over WWDC 2019. What we won’t have is a final chapter for this tale.
At WWDC 2018, Apple snuck its four app-apocalypse horsemen (Stocks, News, Voice Memos, and Home) into the main keynote before telling us they were actually retrofit iPad apps. What we have today is a soak test of those apps, and most tech professionals feel they’re not really all that good. Specifically, they don’t conform to existing macOS development guidelines; navigating them via a cursor is sort of difficult.
This new cross-platform app paradigm is a struggle between UIKit design and APPKit functionality, which we fully expect Apple to iterate on this year. We also expect these issues to be widely addressed, and new tooling to be announced that solves-for-x on niggling issues such as tabbed app windows, customizable toolbars, and collapsible sidebars. These aren’t major issues, but are still ad hoc changes to the macOS platform that Apple will have to address very soon, and provide developers the proper tools to build those apps.
But cross-platform edges well beyond a few iPad-as-Mac apps, and we don’t expect Apple will detail just how iPhone apps land on the Mac... at least not in 2019. Our best guess is this all happens in 2020, where Apple tells us iPhone apps must first be iPad apps, then they can be fitted for the Mac. Le sigh.
App Store Revenue Share Reduction
Every year (literally every… single... year) developers get a little antsy ahead of WWDC, anticipating that Apple will announce it is reducing the app store revenue split from the tried-and-true 30 percent cut it’s been taking.
It’s understandable. When hosting your own apps and processing payments was difficult, the App Store was awesome. Now that spinning up a website and weaving in a Stripe payment widget (or Apple Pay, if you want to keep hovering around the mothership) is actually pretty easy, many developers want Apple to either allow self-hosting of apps or to reduce its take in the App Stores.
Apple simply won’t allow side-loading of iOS apps (ever), and it’s trying hard to make the still-pretty-bad Mac App Store a viable contender for desktop app developers. It also launched a website positioning the App Store as a forum for open competition just this week, which is the largest sign we won’t see the Apple taking less than 30 percent anytime soon.
The only way around this is to either be a Spotify or Netflix and have a unique platform that accepts payment on the web for your service, or create a subscription-based app. Subscription apps see the revenue split go from 70/30 to 85/15 after the first year for legacy subscribers, so you’d make more from your core audience. (This is also a consideration for cross-platform apps; will Apple allow those apps to participate in the 85/15 split?)
We all want more money returned to us, but it’s a slippery slope. Things like documentation and Xcode – even though we love to complain about them – are free because of Apple’s income stream elsewhere. If anything, we should start asking for a reduction in the $99 annual fee to distribute apps. Or, you know, eliminate it altogether!
WWDC 2019 (Probably) Won’t Have Hardware
2017 brought us the iMac Pro, HomePod, and a new iPad – and that was all pretty neat. But WWDC is not the proper forum for hardware announcements.
This week, Apple refreshed the iPod. Last week, the MacBook Pro. While a new MacBook Pro is rumored, we probably won’t see it at WWDC. There’s also little indication when the incoming Mac Pro will arrive. Looking for hardware? Look to the Fall!
Apple loves its small side events for hardware and services announcements, and we’d like to see this trend continue. WWDC should be for tech professionals and the tools they use for work, not how much more money Apple expects from us.
(Logistically, showing hardware at WWDC has been difficult. For example, the media got a special showing right after the keynote before leaving the premises, and tech professionals in attendance got to see the new hardware hours later.)
All told, we expect iteration on cross-platform apps, and for tooling to be released to the public that allows development to start on those apps – which will help the Mac app ecosystem a great deal. Hardware and revenue splits are really unlikely – but you never know.