Mac Catalyst Isn’t Only for Bringing iPad Apps to the Mac for the First Time

So far, the most common path to releasing a Mac Catalyst app on the Mac App Store has been to adapt and release an existing iPadOS app as a first-time Mac app. However, that’s not the only route to the Mac App Store. Apple allows developers to use Mac Catalyst in a variety of ways, as Steve Troughton-Smith has demonstrated with HCC Solitaire, a Mac-only game built using Mac Catalyst. He and Brian Mueller, the creator of CARROT Weather, have also used Mac Catalyst to release new versions of Mac apps that were previously built with AppKit.

As Troughton-Smith’s HCC Solitaire confirms, developers are not required to have an iPad app on the App Store to release an app on the Mac App Store using Mac Catalyst.

The game is an implementation of classic solitaire that’s just $0.99 and displays no ads. Perhaps most interesting from a developer standpoint, though, is that you won’t find HCC Solitaire if you search for an iOS or iPadOS version on the App Store. Troughton-Smith built the game using UIKit and the tools provided as part of Mac Catalyst without also creating an iPadOS version.

Mac Catalyst apps can also be swapped in for existing Mac apps. That’s what Brian Mueller did with CARROT Weather, which was launched the day macOS Catalina was released as version 4.13 of his existing AppKit app. Troughton-Smith took the same approach with SameGame, a color-matching game in which you earn points by eliminating contiguous blocks that are the same color, releasing version 2.2 shortly after Catalina’s release.

I don’t expect either of these approaches to become the main way that Mac Catalyst apps are released, but I’m glad to see that it’s possible. Most developers will be bringing an iPadOS app to the Mac for the first time, but business models, developer backgrounds, the APIs used in an app, and many other variables play a role in the decision of whether to use Mac Catalyst. It’s encouraging to see Apple take a flexible approach and allow developers to experiment because that makes Mac Catalyst useful to more of them. However, as I noted in my Catalina review and elsewhere, that flexibility needs to be coupled with bug fixes, documentation, and rapid evolution of Mac Catalyst for it to become a viable option for a wider audience of developers.