iOS Apps That Could Still Make It to the Mac

There has been some heated debate over the extent to which iOS and OS X will merge in the coming years. Whatever Apple has up its sleeves for the future, it is undeniable that the company is at least trying to make its apps and branding more unified across both systems.

With Lion, Apple brought FaceTime to the Mac, and remodeled Mail, Address Book, and iCal after their iOS counterparts. With the upcoming release of Mountain Lion, Apple has made nearly identical ports of Game Center, Reminders, and Notes for the Mac. It has also changed the names of several Mac apps to match the iOS offerings, rebranding iCal, Address Book, and iChat with the more generic names Calendar, Contacts, and Messages.

So if Apple’s intention is to completely unify the app experience across operating systems, what apps, names, or interfaces have not yet crossed over?

iBooks

When you buy eBooks from the Google or Amazon marketplaces, you can instantly access them across all of your devices. Google’s web versions of books are available on any device with a browser, and Amazon offers a range of Kindle apps that allow you to read its eBooks on various devices.

Unfortunately, eBooks purchased from Apple’s iBookstore have never been so accessible on the Mac. This is due to the fact that Apple has never provided a Mac version of iBooks to open the ePub files it sells. While the iPhone and iPad may be more convenient devices to read on, not everyone owns an iOS device, and there are times when I already have my Mac out and wish I could just read an eBook there.

A mockup of what iBooks could look like on the Mac. The best looking shelves on OS X since Delicious Library.

A mockup of what iBooks could look like on the Mac. The best looking shelves on OS X since Delicious Library.

As for books in Apple’s proprietary IBA format, which are interactive eBooks created using the recently-announced iBooks Author app, I find it unlikely that these would be supported on the Mac; the touch gestures probably would not translate perfectly to a cursor-based operating system. However, there is no reason why simple text and image ePub files could not be natively supported.

iTunes U

With the iTunes U section of the iTunes Store, Apple has created an invaluable ecosystem of educational videos, courses, and other resources. Since many schools use Mac hardware, either offering Macbooks to students or iMacs in classrooms, Apple could make a great impact on education if it provided an official iTunes U app for Mac to help students and teachers find, manage, and open content.

Don't think Apple would make a Mac interface this skeuomorphic? Please direct your attention to Address Book on Lion.

Don't think Apple would make a Mac interface this skeuomorphic? Please direct your attention to Address Book on Lion.

At present, you can only reach iTunes U on a Mac through the iTunes Store, which can be a distracting and unintuitive process for students. On top of that, iTunes cannot even open all types of content downloaded from iTunes U courses (such as ePub files). Having an official app designated for education could only make Macs even more popular with students and schools.

Trailers

Just like iBooks and iTunes U, Trailers is an official, but optional app that can be downloaded for free from the App Store. I am not sure why Apple decided to create a website and app for watching movie trailers in the first place, but they nailed it, and probably offer the best trailer watching experience around.

If Apple decided to release an official Trailers app for Mac, I think that many users would enjoy browsing and viewing the trailers in a native app on larger screens (we used to do this in Front Row before they canned it).

Those 27-inch iMac screens are just begging to display some beautiful HD trailers.

Those 27-inch iMac screens are just begging to display some beautiful HD trailers.

Weather, Stocks, & Maps

These three simple apps have never made it to the Mac, and somewhat surprisingly, Weather and Stocks have never even made an appearance on the iPad. While these particular apps probably do get accessed more frequently on iPhones while people are on the go, I can imagine situations where users would enjoy viewing them on the larger screens of their Macs.

Microsoft has shown off versions of each on Windows 8, and I think it did a nice job of demonstrating how the interfaces could translate to a screen with more real estate.

The Windows 8 apps for weather, stocks, and maps.

The Windows 8 apps for weather, stocks, and maps.

Of course, there are popular websites and third party apps (like Weather HD) that can be accessed on a Mac. And I don’t know if anyone would really be ecstatic over the prospect of a native weather app for Mac, but I think a lot of people would make use of these kinds of apps.

Music

Of all the Mac apps that have a counterpart on iOS, iTunes on the Mac and Music on iOS are certainly the most disjointed pair. Despite Steve’s claim during the announcement of iCloud that the Mac would no longer serve as your hub for digital content, iTunes on the Mac remains the mothership of every form of digital media, while the Music app for iOS has kept things simple and focused on audio.

To make matters worse, Apple actually called an app on iOS “iTunes” that is not a music player, but is in fact the iTunes Store. So while Apple is generally trying to unify the naming of apps across operating systems, this is a messy situation where it is actually using the same name for two different apps, potentially confusing users.

Wait, which one of these do I play my music in?

Wait, which one of these do I play my music in?

I think that it is time for Apple to finally trim a lot of the fat that has accumulated on iTunes over the years, and possibly even split the iTunes Store into a separate app as it is in iOS. Since Apple tends to be going with more generic names for core apps (as with Messages, Calendar, and Contacts in Mountain Lion), I would not be surprised if it rebranded iTunes on the Mac as “Music”, and remodeled it to match the simpler Music app on the iPad.

Could the Music app on iPad indicate the future of iTunes on the Mac?

Could the Music app on iPad indicate the future of iTunes on the Mac?

Photos & Videos

Apple recently announced iPhoto for iOS, bringing more advanced photo management and editing features to iPhones and iPads. I found it interesting that Apple chose to release iPhoto as a separate app, rather than incorporating its editing features into the existing Photos app that comes on these devices. This suggests that Apple believes there is a need for both tiers: a bare-bones photo management app, and a separate, more advanced app that provides some editing features.

If this distinction exists on iOS, could we one day see the bare-bones Photos app come to the Mac? And for that matter, what about the minimal video management app Videos? You may be thinking that the Mac does not need these apps, since they would just be glorified versions of your Pictures and Movies folders in Finder. But think about it, what is Launchpad on the Mac but a glorified Applications folder?

Photos on the Mac: somewhere between your Pictures folder and iPhoto.

Photos on the Mac: somewhere between your Pictures folder and iPhoto.

Launchpad could have been an indication that Apple is trying to move people away from Finder, and towards apps that are specially designed to display a certain kinds of files or media. So the question is, will the Music, Photos, and Videos apps forever only exist on iOS, or will Apple eventually bring this media app trifecta to the Mac?

Settings

This is one “app” that might get overlooked, but it certainly looks and behaves very differently between OS X and iOS. For starters, the app is called “System Preferences” on the Mac, and I would guess that Apple might eventually rebrand it with the shorter, more-generic iOS name of “Settings”. They could also include app preferences as Settings does on iOS, allowing users to change system and app settings in one location.

In terms of the design, System Preferences on the Mac has long shown a grid of icons to provide access to different sections of preferences. On iOS however, Apple is using the paradigm of a left-side navigation pane for accessing sections. Considering several apps have adopted similar-looking side panes in OS X, such as Mail and Messages, it would not be surprising if we saw a revamped Settings app for the Mac use this design as well.

System Preferences has looked the same for quite a while; maybe it's time for a refresh?

System Preferences has looked the same for quite a while; maybe it's time for a refresh?

Conclusion

So there you have it. I have tried to present every case I could think of where a gap existed between an app offering on iOS and OS X. Apple has stated that they want to release OS X updates more frequently, and I can imagine that we could see a few of these new apps or changes in the next update.

As some people have pointed out, the idea exchange between iOS and OS X does not just go one way. As we recently saw with iPhoto, there are some great Mac apps and features that could improve the iOS experience as well. In any case, it seems that Apple is trying to make the same apps available on both operating systems, and the content between them synced with iCloud, allowing users to do many of the same things regardless of what device they are on.

Many thanks to Tyler Murphy, who provided mockups for this piece.