What Is Apple’s Project Catalyst?

Project Catalyst makes it easy to port iPad apps to the Mac. Here’s what you need to know…

In 2018 Apple announced an internal program called Project Marzipan. That program, the company revealed, referred to efforts by Apple to port native iOS apps to the Mac. To kick off Project Marzipan, in 2018 Apple ported four of its iOS apps to macOS. These included News, Voice Memos, Stocks, and Home.

At the time Apple said the long-term aim of Project Marzipan was to build tools that would allow developers to port their third-party iOS apps to the Mac easily and without a lot of coding changes needed.

At WWDC in 2019, Apple gave an update on Project Marzipan. The company announced it was now referred to as Project Catalyst and it was now giving developers the tools to allow them to port their third-party iPad apps to the Mac.

How Does Project Catalyst Work?

Very simply, actually. Well, if you’re a developer. Project Catalyst encompasses a set of Xcode tools that allow a developer to use much of their existing codebase for an app and translate that codebase to a format that will allow them to quickly make a port of their iPad app that runs on the Mac–this includes iPad apps that run on iPadOS. Literally, much of this automatic porting is down to a tick box the developer ticks in their Xcode project.

So Does Project Catalyst Means We’ll Just See iPad Apps Stretched To Fit The Mac Screen?

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We shouldn’t, unless a developer is really lazy. The idea behind Project Catalyst is that Xcode does most of the heavy lifting in porting the iPadOS codebase to the Mac. But once that’s done, while an iPad app then could technically run on the Mac as is, good developers won’t be happy with that.

Instead, developers are expected to continue to refine that iPad app port, adding Mac-like elements to give it the look and feel of an app built for the Mac desktop.

Here’s how Apple describes Catalyst:

“Mac apps built with Mac Catalyst share code with your iPad apps, and you can add more features just for Mac. Desktop-class features on iPad translate beautifully onto Mac. Your Mac app’s toolbars are automatically optimized and document-based apps gain key features, such as menu items and the ability to rename the document in the toolbar. And you can use new Mac Catalyst APIs to enhance multiwindow behaviors, add custom views to your toolbars, and more.”


What Guarantees Are There That Devs Won’t Take Shortcuts?

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Most developers are interested in creating great apps for the platform and device they are running on. That means any developer worth their salt isn’t going to be happy with just an iPad app port with no Mac-like tweaks to it. As Shaan Pruden, Apple’s senior director of partner management and developer relations, explained:

“Then we come down to customers’ reaction and ratings and all of that kind of stuff. Which hopefully will drive the right behavior for a developer, which is to do the work and do it right and don’t be lazy.”

When Will Project Catalyst Apps Be Available For Me To Use?

They’re ready for you right now! Catalyst apps have been out since 2019. If your favorite iPad app is available on the Mac, there’s a good chance it was ported using Catalyst.

Michael Grothaus

Michael Grothaus is an American author and journalist with a flair for exploring the intersection of technology, creativity, and digital culture. With a background in film, journalism, and creative writing, he brings a unique perspective to the world of mobile technology. His work has been featured in renowned publications like Fast Company, The Guardian, and Engadget. At KnowYourMobile, Michael leverages his extensive knowledge to guide readers through the complexities of mobile devices, helping them make informed choices in the fast-paced tech landscape.

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