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Apple enables universal purchases for Mac and iOS apps

Apple’s Catalyst apps were designed to help bridge software between its macOS and iOS platforms, and now the company is taking things a step further by enabling universal purchases between the two platforms, as spotted in Apple’s Xcode 11.4 beta by developer Steve Troughton-Smith on Twitter. In other words, if developers choose to enable it, customers who buy the Mac App Store version of an app will also get it on their iOS devices, and vice versa.

The new feature sounds similar to how Apple already offers universal iOS apps for its iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and tvOS platforms, where buying the app once gives users access to it on all those platforms. Developers, of course, still have the option to distribute (and sell) separate versions of their apps for different platforms, should they want to separately monetize the Mac, iOS, and iPad versions of their app, but universal apps are far more common in the iOS ecosystem nowadays.

The new feature appears to be a big part of Apple’s plans to encourage developers to create more Catalyst apps: universal purchases will be enabled by default in Xcode 11.4, and developers will be able to add existing Mac apps to support universal purchases, too.

Catalyst apps launched in macOS 10.15 Catalina earlier this year (after an extended trial period by Apple in macOS 10.14 under the “Marzipan” codename). The idea is that Mac developers can use Catalyst apps to make it easier to port over iOS apps (which are based on Apple’s UIKit software framework) to macOS without having to rewrite the entire app for the AppKit software framework traditionally used on desktop. In practice, Catalyst apps have had a slow start, with developers reluctant to adopt the complicated new system and users hesitant to embrace it.

By offering universal purchases, though, Apple could help prime the pump for a new wave of Catalyst apps by removing a key barrier on the consumer side: the requirement that customers pay again on Mac for the apps that they’ve already bought on their phones and tablets.

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