Apple is allowing app developers to distribute their iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and tvOS apps as a universal purchase starting March. The new change, which is already a part of Xcode 11.4 beta, is essentially aimed to let users make a single purchase of the apps that they want on multiple Apple devices. It appears to be another step by the Cupertino company to merge iPhone, iPad, and macOS apps that has been rumoured since December 2017 and is said to be in the works as a secret project, codenamed “Marzipan.”
“Starting in March 2020, you'll be able to distribute iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and tvOS versions of your app as a universal purchase, allowing customers to enjoy your app and in‑app purchases across platforms by purchasing only once,” Apple noted in an update posted on its developer portal.
As spotted by developer Steve Troughton-Smith on Twitter, universal purchase is already a part of Xcode 11.4 beta that is available for testing purposes. It is enabled by default for new Mac Catalyst apps built using Xcode 11.4. Nevertheless, developers can also add universal purchase support to their existing Mac apps as well.
Aside from allowing universal purchasing, Apple is unifying categories across the App Store and Mac App Store. This means developers building iOS apps will be able to select categories “Developer Tools” and “Graphics & Design” that both were earlier provided only to macOS developers. Similarly, macOS app developers will get categories such as “Books”, “Food & Drink”, “Magazine & Newspapers”, and “Shopping” that all were so far limited to iOS. The company is also combining the “Photography” and “Video” categories into a single “Photo & Video” category, whereas the “Kids” will no longer be a subcategory within “Games” on the Mac App Store.
The new change doesn't mean that developers will no longer be able to distribute and sell separate versions of their apps for different platforms. Apple will still offer the option to get distinct purchases.
However, the update planned by Apple is a step further to Catalyst apps that it brought with the launch of macOS 10.15 Catalina last year. Catalyst apps are aimed to help developers build apps for both iOS and macOS platforms -- without having to completely rework their code.
The initial adoption of Catalyst apps is low as it doesn't bring any visible value for end consumers. However, the addition of universal purchases may encourage developers to start building new Catalyst apps as they'll enable users to pay once for the apps that they want on multiple Apple devices.
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