Apple’s Intent Isn’t the Same as Committing to Mac Automation

| Analysis

Last week Sal Soghoian announced his job as Apple’s Manager of Automation Technologies had been eliminated, and this week senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi says Apple intends to continue supporting scripting technologies on the Mac. That’s a little reassuring, although “intending to support” is a far cry from “committed to continue developing.”

Apple may not be committed to Mac automation and scripting

Apple’s commitment to Mac scripting and automation isn’t a sure thing

Mr. Soghoian joined Apple in 1997 as Product Manager of Automation Technologies where he pushed for always better scripting and automation tools for the Mac. Thanks to his efforts, AppleScript, Automator, and command line scripting tools have continued to be core parts of OS X and now macOS.

Without his efforts, AppleScript most likely would’ve been cut years ago, which makes it all the more likely the days of system-level Mac automation are numbered. Considering how critical automation tools such as AppleScript are to some professional workflows, that’s a pretty sobering thought.

With Mr. Soghoian on the outside now, one 9to5 Mac reader emailed Mr. Federighi to see what Apple plans to do with automation. He responded,

We have every intent to continue our support for the great automation technologies in macOS!

That sounds good, but it’s a safe bet Mr. Federighi chose his words very carefully. “Intent to support” says that Apple does plan to continue supporting scripting for now. How long that support will last is a mystery, and the wording implies Apple isn’t going to add any new features.

What’s likely is that Apple will leave the current batch of scripting tools in place until they break. Odds are they won’t get any fixes, so scripting will quietly fade away as future macOS updates roll out. That gives everyone who’s reliant on system-level scripting some time to find alternate solutions, or convince Apple to continue supporting them in a meaningful way.

You can tell Apple you need ongoing Mac automation support through the Apple Feedback webpage, and you can let company CEO Tim Cook know how you feel on Twitter, too. Both are easy to do, and Apple seems more open to listening than it did in the past.

Still, it’s looking more and more like Apple isn’t as invested as it once was in the pro market. The Mac Pro has languished since it shipped in December 2013, and Apple’s pro app offerings have been trimmed down to the Final Cut suite. The MacBook Pro went years without a significant update—and still tops out at 16GB RAM when many pros are asking for 32GB—and now the future of scripting is in question, too.

Maybe I’m just being paranoid and reading too much into Mr. Federighi’s choice of words, but it’s really hard to take what he said as a firm commitment to the future of Mac scripting and automation.

7 Comments Add a comment

  1. Maybe I’m just being paranoid and reading too much into Mr. Federighi’s choice of words,

    No you’re not. Apple is changing. It’s changing fast. It’s changing into something very unlike the computer company we’ve known for decades. Apple Scripting will be there for a long time. The question is whether it will, as you suggest, finally break and just not be patched, or will it fade away along with the Mac as a Pro device. Will we in five years be looking at Macs as devices for Netflix, SnapChat, and Facebook, while Pros who create videos, and music, and graphic arts, have moved to Linux and Windows?

    You can still write scripts on Linux and Win10 systems.

  2. You can still write scripts on Linux and Win10 systems.

    geoduck, that’s not a good comparison, as you can write / run shell scripts on Macs just as you can on Linux. That’s not going away.

    I’m curious though.. aside from an batch change of filenames (I’ve heard that referenced and have used it for that), what do pros need Applescript/automator for these days?

  3. geoduck: “Apple Scripting will be there for a long time.”

    Why do you assume that? It’s an obsolete language with few users that depends on an IPC infrastructure that can’t even be bothered to secure properly. It’s tried twice in the last decade to win significant new markets (ObjC, JS) and failed miserably. Fixing that infrastructure will take a significant investment of time and manpower; why bother when it’s simpler to let it fade away and pull the plug when done?

    brett_x: “I’m curious though.. aside from an batch change of filenames (I’ve heard that referenced and have used it for that), what do pros need Applescript/automator for these days?”

    Well, Automator’s a waste of space (like ASStudio, it’s far too expensive for Apple and third-parties to support and extend cost-effectively). And the AppleScript language has too many fundamental, and unfixable, design flaws that limit its usefulness to many outside its legacy user base. I outgrew both years ago, but I still depend on the underlying Apple event infrastructure (what AppleScript and macOS GUI apps traditionally use to talk to each other) to build [very!] high-end packaging automation workflows for clients. Quick-n-dirty demo video I did a little while back (more polished ones are in the pipeline):

    https://twitter.com/hhas01/status/793853777111646213

    That one particular workflow constructs most/all of the nutrition, ingredients, etc panels for the back of a food packet, reducing maybe 30 minutes of manual work to 5 minutes of autonomination thousands of times over. It uses a template tagging language specially developed for Adobe Illustrator, and drives it via the Python-appscript Apple event bridge. About 100 lines of custom code and simple tags attached to artwork elements control all that behavior, simple enough that non-programmers can start building their own templates in an hour, and totally extensible so scales from simple artworks to extremely sophisticated. A single 16-year application scripting veteran (me) designed and built that entire system; no-one else in the industry—not even its major global vendors—has a product that even gets close, and they’ve been trying to figure out how for 20!

    That is how powerful macOS Automation technology really is, when it’s fully supported, fully understood, and fully put into the hands of expert users who actually understand the problems and how to solve them by and for themselves. And that’s just one product for one narrow vertical market, so imagine the same level of user power unleashed in every other—Apple’s mass consumer markets in particular.

    Apple are quite mad throwing such vast unrealized potential on the heap; you’d think at the very least they’d want to figure out why it hasn’t sold better before wandering off to try something else. Or even how well it could sell, if they just got their act together, made it all work properly, and marketed the tar out of it.

  4. Once you understand performatives, a lot of things begin to make sense.

    To quote Professor James Pennybaker (youtube.com/watch?v=BSHCdalj3Fo)

    When people start a sentence with something like “I want you to know that…” or “Let me be perfectly clear…” then anything that follows can’t be judged as false or truthful. Performatives are a delightful way to deceive while technically telling the truth.

    So when Craig says ‘Apple intends to’, Apple is legally under no obligation to live up to that statement.

  5. @ brett_x

    I think you don’t get the bigger picture. Applescript is fundamentally a superpower of the Mac OS system that sets in apart from Linux or Windows. Yes you can script things in Linux from the command line, as you have with all Unix systems for 40 years. But you are limited to very simple text-based tools in the “unix toolkit”. There is no uniform interface on any other platform to dive into high-level applications and script the internals.

    This is why the scripting black t-shirt set on linux are still living in a 30 year old world of command lines and simple tools, they have no ability bubble up to a higher-level abstraction.

  6. NotTellingYou

    Sorry but the Emperor has no clothes. Just what new features have been added since the release of Automator? The scripting and automation functionality in MacOS have been allowed to languish for almost a decade. No idea what Mr. Soghoian Has been doing all these years for his paycheck but it didn’t result in any significant innovation or increase in user accessibility.

  7. NotTellingYou

    Brett_x, the big one for us is data driven typesetting the ability to use standard tools, like Adobe Creative Suite, mated to a back end data store enabling=bles some pretty powerful and economical print solutions.

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