Last Week on My Mac: What is Apple up to?

According to one commentator or another, Apple is doomed, or so we are told every few months. macOS and Apple’s own apps are going down the pan, macOS is about to be merged with iOS and lose all its distinctive features, expected new models of Mac aren’t going to be released after all, and more.

These rumours haven’t abated recently, but if you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed two important changes: Mojave is actually proving a great deal better than High Sierra, and Apple is hiring talent.

According to the doomsayers, every new version of macOS is worse than the last. I wouldn’t disagree in respect of High Sierra, but Mojave has been different. So far with Mojave, we’ve had three releases in its first three months: 10.14, 10.14.1, and 10.14.2. That is much the same as with Sierra and El Capitan, and far better than either High Sierra or Mountain Lion (10.8).

By this time in High Sierra’s life, we’d got through:

  • 10.13, 25-09-2017. An initial two-step installer was hurriedly replaced with a monolithic version.
  • 10.13 Supplemental Update, 05-10-2017. The primary reason for this was to address a glaring encryption password bug in Disk Utility, and a bug allowing malicious apps to extract keychain passwords. But at 915 MB, it contained more extensive fixes which had missed the original release date.
  • 10.13.1, 31-10-2017. This also addressed some important security matters, including the KRACK Wi-Fi vulnerabilities. Again, at 2.1 GB it was also catching up with things which should have been fixed before 10.13 was released.
  • Security Update 2017-001 (17B1002), 29-11-2017. This was an urgent fix to address the notorious root user vulnerability, and was just over 1 MB.
  • Security Update 2017-001 / Supplemental (17B1003), 01-12-2017. This was an additional fix to the last fix.
  • 10.13.2, 07-12-2017. At 2 GB, another major update with many bug and security fixes.

In spite of those, High Sierra’s main feature APFS was still only able to run on SSDs, not hard disks or Fusion Drives.

I’m no apologist for Apple, but most of the problems remaining in Mojave are now badly written apps like the App Store, and the maturing of new features such as privacy protection. Mojave is no bed of roses, but neither is it the bed of nettles which High Sierra most definitely was.

Another school of doom-mongering holds that macOS and Macs will shortly disappear, absorbed into iOS. This was dealt something of a blow when Apple introduced a preview of its Marzipan system for porting iOS apps to macOS, which changed the claim to be that macOS-specific support in AppKit, TextKit, and many other frameworks will be replaced by their more limited iOS equivalents.

Although that could be over the horizon, Apple hasn’t started to deprecate any of the macOS-specific interfaces which might be lost, nor to replace them in its own apps, so it hardly seems plausible even in macOS 10.15. Products which might have blurred the distinction between iOS and macOS hardware, such as the new iPad Pro, haven’t shown any signs of doing so. But most of all, Apple has invested substantially in a new Mac-only alternative to its App Store, app notarization.

No one can say that iOS and macOS will never converge and eventually merge, but that is blue-sky speculation, not something to be sprung on us in 2019.

There is an even more fascinating process going on at Apple, though: it’s recruiting. Over the last few weeks and months, a steady stream of specialists, including security experts, top-ranking journalists, coders, and now one of the most respected cross-platform sysadmins, have accepted offers to work for Apple.

The company is also growing its headcount of employees in Austin, Texas, which in the past has been a point of interface with other industry leaders such as IBM. In the heady days of the PowerPC, Austin’s Somerset Design Center was the heart of processor design.

We cannot know what Apple’s purpose is in this expansion, nor where it is heading. It certainly isn’t just for iOS, nor is there any indication that macOS has been put into support and maintenance mode. I think we may be in for some surprises in future WWDCs.