Apple has an ambitious goal that will make it easier for app developers to build apps for iPhone, iPad and Mac, and thereby increase its own revenue by 2021. The project, named "Marizpan," will make it possible for coders to code just one application and have it work across multiple kinds of Apple devices, without needing to create additional versions for each type of device as they have to now. In other words, developers will no longer need to code separate applications for iPhones, iPads and Mac computers - with the possibility of that extending to other devices like Apple TV and Apple Watch in the future.

From Bloomberg, "This means developers won't have to submit their work to different Apple App Stores, allowing iOS apps to be downloaded directly from Mac computers - effectively combining the stores."

Much like Microsoft's move to combine its desktop and mobile operating systems in the last few years, Project Marzipan is essentially building one developer platform across devices, which will appear as a single app store to consumers and developers alike.

It's solving a pain point for app developers and users on the App Store, its most lucrative platform business. In 2018, iOS App Store sales reached $46.6 billion. Note that Apple does not readily share revenue from its Mac App Store, which has apps in the tens of thousands whereas the iOS App Store has over 2 million.

The move comes at the time that Apple is looking to grow its platform revenue (what it calls "services" revenue) while its hardware revenue growth is slowing.

And as iPhone sales slump, Apple must also pivot to other devices that still have room to grow, such as the Mac. By improving the developer platform, Apple will hope to boost sales of devices that are currently underserved by its large ecosystem of app developers. Opening up all devices' to the iOS app store will make those devices more useful and attractive to consumers.

Apple's streamlined developer platform will boost Mac market share

Macs account for just under 10% of the desktop market. The Mac App Store is in worse shape. As CIO accurately described in an article, "Some developers have abandoned the Mac App Store altogether, and some Mac users rarely bother to even open the App Store application on their Macs (except to get updates from Apple). This does not bode well for the future of the Mac App Store."

This lack of developer support has hampered Apple's growth in a market still dominated by Microsoft's Windows operating system. Microsoft and Google are already way ahead of Apple in multi-device app interoperability. Google and Microsoft have moved towards tablet-desktop hybrids with the Chromebook and Surface line of laptops respectively. Combining these app stores enables them to strengthen their network effects across device types.

In the near future, expect to see Macs look more like the Chromebook or Surface, with touch screens that fold back on the keyboard to form a tablet. Apple says that's not happening, but I don't buy it.

Why? Well first, I can't take seriously Apple's argument "that lifting your arm up to poke a screen is a pretty fatiguing thing to do." On a more serious note, the Chromebook and Surface laptops were built with touch screens because of the interoperability of apps across devices.

The Chromebook integrates with the Android app store directly, though admittedly some apps display poorly on Chromebook (a problem Google is already working on with the development of Fuschia, the Chrome-Android OS hybrid). Since 2016, Microsoft's app store runs on Xbox and Microsoft tablets and laptops using the Universal Windows Platform. Apple must build a touch screen simply to keep up with its rivals. The only other alternative, voice, is not an area where Apple is particularly advanced, despite being early to market with Siri.

Looking back, it's easy to say Apple was forced into Project Marzipan by its competitors. But Microsoft, at 87.56% market share, doesn't have much room to grow - just a lot of market to lose. Meanwhile Chromebooks are only 0.32% of the desktop market. That's not a typo. Chromebooks are only just starting to find their market, and don't yet have the cult status of the Mac. Apple, at nearly 10% of the market and armed with a beloved desktop brand name, has so much more to gain.

Apple has room to grow in other devices too

The potential to gain Mac market share is just the beginning with Apple. If Marzipan's efforts eventually include Apple TV and Apple Watch, those two devices would benefit greatly from an integrated App Store as well. Currently, Apple TV's and Apple Watch's market sizes are too small for many app developers to spend time and resources coding for those devices.

This is especially true of Apple TV, which in 2017 held just 15% of the video streaming device market, down from 19% in 2016. In the meantime, many competitors have entered the Smart TV market. In January 2019, Apple announced that its Apple TV apps would also run on Samsung TVs - no Apple TV purchase required. This was widely seen as an admission of defeat. If Apple TV could tap into the larger iOS app store without requiring extra effort from developers, it could claw back market share.

As of writing, Project Marzipan will only target iPhone, iPad and Mac apps. Enabling multi-device apps is a step in the right direction, but it's only the first step. I would be surprised if the project didn't expand to other devices down the line.

Published on: Feb 27, 2019