Last Week on My Mac: Reinventing the Mac

Some say that, if you stay watching Apple long enough, it will eventually reinvent itself from scratch. Last week’s WWDC combined invention with reinvention, and above all successfully demonstrated the importance of Macs within Apple’s ecosystem.

The most obvious piece of reinvention to anyone who started using computers before the Mac existed is Mojave’s Dark Mode. Had Apple not announced this to a hall full of developers who spend much of their life glued to Xcode, the audience response might have been a little less wildly enthusiastic. As we were warned in Apple’s introductory video, many developers seldom see daylight, and peering intently at a display which is overwhelmingly near-black appears a strong species preference.

For the rest of us, the Mac’s black-on-white display was a huge leap forward, and later refinements such as subpixel antialiasing of text were welcome; that too is gone in the wake of Retina displays and Mojave’s incessant reinvention.

What was perhaps most surprising with Dark Mode was the amount of work required in individual apps to support it well. I’m unsure whether Mojave makes it so elaborate, or the work being done by Mojave is actually quite small.

This year’s clear theme was performance, although I’m wary of the inner meaning of Apple’s buzzphrase double down on performance. As anyone with a misspent youth will remember, in Pontoon and Blackjack double down is a term used for doubling your bet after seeing your initial cards, raising both the stakes and the risk. This transferred to more general use, meaning to engage in risky behaviour, particularly when you’re already in danger, and only recently seems to have shed its association with increasing risk.

Improving performance is another laudable reinvention, and providing developers with tools to analyse and optimise performance using Mojave’s slightly tweaked unified log is a big step forward. But Signposts and Xcode Instruments also emphasise the larger-scale problems of log access by sysadmins and users, which Apple continues to ignore. When it takes two years to enable developers to make good use of your new log system, I wonder how much longer it will be before Console gets the features which make it useful to anyone outside Apple.

Many of the macOS announcements were less about 10.14 than 10.15, which will finally lose 32-bit support, killing QuickTime in the process, will also kill OpenGL and OpenCL, but will incorporate Swift support into macOS at last. The latter could rid even minimal Swift apps of around 11 MB of dylibs on macOS, doubling down on both performance and wasted storage.

macOS 10.15 is also promised to do what some of us thought Gatekeeper should have been doing for the last six years, and actually checking whether the code that we run is reputable through Notarization, which will be voluntary in Mojave before becoming mandatory in 2019 for apps which are not delivered through the App Store.

Apple didn’t, though, announce the demise of AppleScript. Indeed, it could be given a new lease of life in Siri Shortcuts, even if it has to be wrapped ignominiously in Automator Actions first.

So there are no signs of macOS being put into maintenance mode. A few feel that Apple’s long-term project to incorporate iOS UIKit into macOS represents a dumbing down, but if it helps developers bring some excellent iOS-only products to macOS, it will have served its purpose.

Besides, Apple has reinvented the Mac as its platform of choice not only for iOS development, but also for authoring Augmented Reality (AR) and Machine Learning (ML) apps for iOS. It will have taken 35 years for professional Mac users to move from the Desktop Publishing revolution to the brave new worlds of AR and ML, and innovative tools like HyperCard and AppleScript will have been replaced by Swift Playgrounds and Create ML.

So fire up your eGPUs, engage Dark Mode, and open Xcode: our Macs are once again going to be at the centre of invention and reinvention.

One more thing: don’t think that Apple is about to reinvent documentation. During WWDC it ‘retired’ the only account it has provided of APFS, in favour of a mere ten paragraphs in its Foundation documentation, and its brand new page of documentation links on Metal 2 take you to the only Metal Programming Guide it now offers, which “is no longer being updated” and doesn’t even cover High Sierra.

Those WWDC presentations and videos are probably the most detailed information that we’ll have for the foreseeable future.