iPad/iPhone Apps Should Run as ‘Desk Touch Apps’ in OS X

| Editorial

Remember desk accessories? Before there was multitasking on the Mac way way back—30 years ago—we had desk accessories. Cute little calculators, puzzles, scrapbooks and other neat-o do-dads! They were great and they looked like this:

Desktop Accessories

Mac OS Desktop Accessories

So why hasn't Apple considered letting users run iPad/iPhone apps on the Mac in their own windows akin to the desk accessories of yore? Imagine accessing multiple mobile apps, games, etc. on your Mac as little desk accessory apps/widgets (let's call them Desk Touch Apps). It could look something like this:

Mock Up

Desk Touch Apps Mock Up

There would be a ton of new uses/benefits to running mobile apps on the desktop, but here are at least 5:

(1) Most obviously, all these great little mobile tools and apps, many with no counterparts on the Mac, would finally be available on the desktop (all in little Touch UI sandbox/windows).

(2) It would make getting data in/out of mobile apps easier. For example, just copy and paste text/photos/whatever from your desktop into/out of the Desk Touch App via the Mac interface (i.e., Command-C or Command-V from/into the iPhone App). And since those Desk Touch Apps could share data via iCloud, the data pasted into the Desk Touch App would just automagically appear/propagate into the same app running on your iPad/iPhone.

(3) Unlike on your iPhone or iPad, you can run and see multiple apps side by side on your Mac.

(4) Using AppleScript across such Desk Touch Apps could really extend their usefulness.

(5) This would provide a low risk way to bring Touch UI to the Mac. By keeping the Touch UI apps in their own iPad/iPhone windows, Apple would avoid artificially foisting a Touch UI upon the rest of the desktop. Let them label it as a beta release, and it would give Apple an interesting environment to experiment with touch interfaces in desktop environments without risking a Windows 8-like UI/fiasco revolt.

Lastly, this wouldn't be difficult to do. Apple already makes an iPad/iPhone emulator as part of Xcode and it works pretty nicely. C'mon Apple. Much like larger iPhone screens, bringing touch to the desktop in more meaningful ways is long overdue.

I really see no down side. What say you? Is it time to bring touch apps to the Mac? Let us know in the comments below or #iPhoneApps4Macs on twitter @JohnKheit.

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No! No! No! Please get a grip. The whole point of a desktop computer is that it is a desktop computer and the idea of using touch on a monitor is a fundamental misunderstanding of the touch paradigm. If there really is a need for a touch UI on the desktop then this should be via a mirrored display on an iPad like device beside the keyboard but the whole point of touch is that it enables interaction on a mobile device which has enough power for day to day applications. The idea of the touch on the desktop is one of the many things that is wrong with Windows 8 and the last thing we need is anything like this on the Mac.


While I kind of agree being able to run iOS apps on a Mac would be somewhat useful (and easy since Apple already has the emulator in it’s development tools), I’ve never been fond of touchscreen computers. Fingerprints and fingers getting in the way of seeing stuff are drawbacks. Not as big of a deal on a smaller portable device, but at my desktop or laptop, I work faster with a keyboard and mouse.

If apple could make them work with existing input devices, then they might be useful to have access to your iOS apps (and data) on your Mac screens.


No - because a touch interface is different to a desktop interface. Most apps would be a problem to use.
Besides, I suspect the license agreement with the app developers wouldn’t allow it.

John Kheit

iVoid, it already works well with the Apple trackpad.  At least when I use the Xcode emulator, just using the trackpad lets me navigate the emulator iOS apps rather easily.  You’re right though, I’m sure they could make a few tweaks to make it even more fluid within the emulator/window sandbox.

Lee Dronick

  And since those Desk Touch Apps could share data via iCloud, the data pasted into the Desk Touch App would just automagically appear/propagate into the same app running on your iPad/iPhone.

That already happens with some apps, Pages, Numbers, Notes, but I assume that you are talking about Widget type of apps.


Like Dashboard?


A couple of weeks ago I finished setting up a Win8 desktop. It was an HP system with a touch screen in addition to the keyboard/mouse. It was the worst, most abominable, most confusing and frustrating kludge I’ve ever run across. Sure Win8 was part of it but the core problem is you can have one or the other, KVM or touch-screen, but if you try to mix them, they go together like Scotch and Milk.

Lee Dronick

  Like Dashboard?

Yeah, it’s okay. However, I often forget that it is there. smile

John Kheit

Agreed on Windows 8.  But that’s exactly the problem.  Windows 8 foists touch UI on a user almost at random all over the desktop UI.  I’d suggest you try using the iPhone emulator as part of Xcode.  It launches an iPhone app into its own little window sandbox.  The rest of the UI is totally unaffected. And if you have a touchpad, working within the little windows sandbox works reasonably well. The point being, though, it forces the user to only have a context switch when you see the iPhone sandbox window, regarding behavior, and of course, you don’t have to use any of the iOS touch apps if you don’t want to.

For those making the Windows 8 comparisons, let me just say, I understand the point, and on the surface (no pun intended), it seems to be an apt comparison.  But in practice, it’s nothing like it.  Just give the emulator a try and judge for yourself, but at least give it a try before you pass judgement.


I got plenty of those one-tricks ponies. The ones I like – units converter, screen dimmer, calender, weather, multi-clipbord, etc, – and they reside in my menu bar for whenever I want them.

What’s Dashboard?

Richard Blumberg

I’ve been fooling around with an Asus touch screen Chromebook, and there are some advantages to having a touch screen, albeit slight ones. I find myself on occasion reaching to the screen to scroll through a long page, or to pinch open an image. I can do that on the Chromebook, which is nice. On the other hand, the Chromebook isn’t a MacBook Pro, and the MBP, with or without touchscreen, is nicer. Much nicer.

Still, don’t dismiss touchscreen capabilities out of hand, on irrelevant grounds, and don’t assume that the way MS has chosen to implement those is the only way. Thank goodness it’s not.

I can’t think of an any apps on my i-devices that I’d want to run as a widget-like screen on my Mac, but if the Mac had touchscreen capabilities that behaved well and sat in the background when you didn’t need them, I might discover new possilities. And that, for me, is the wonder of the Mac/iOS world.


Lee Dronick

Will we get Font DA Mover again? smile

Yes, some of these Widgets/Apps are handy, units converter, word translator.


Touchscreen computers (as opposed to horizontal tablets) are an ergonomically insane idea.
Try it. See how long you can hold your hand steady at the vertical screen without some kind of support. Now see how good your finger accuracy is when it is driven by the large muscles anchored to your shoulder instead of the very fine control you get with your desktop-supported forearm and finger with a tablet.
Try using your tablet on a tabletop without elbow support. Result? Reduced accuracy and rapid tiring.
Try playing a game for two minutes on a vertical touchscreen. Frustrating, isn’t it?
Stupid PC manufacturers take note: You can try to “innovate” with your touchscreen laptops and desktops, but don’t expect Apple to follow you. Apple is not stupid.
You can bet that Apple has tried it and rejected it. That’s why they have put significant effort for years into touch*pad* technology for computers.


John: I totally agree with you.  I had the same idea while I was using the emulator in Xcode.  As you pointed out, works great with the Trackpad and doesn’t have all the drawbacks of a large touchscreen like Windows.  If Apple doesn’t build this into OS X somebody is bound to build a third-party app!


Some apps might work, some are utterly pointless owing to the functionality they provide (MyPhoneDesktop being an example).
But the fundamental problem, and the reason Microsoft’s efforts will fail (and anybody else who offers a vertical touchscreen) is that the ergonomics are all wrong. 
Fingertips are perfectly orientated to use a surface that’s nearly horizontal - because its the pad of the fingertip that does the touching, putting a touchscreen on a near vertical display at eye level whilst sitting down just doesn’t work because its almost physically impossible, and very uncomfortable to use the pad of your finger to make gestures or type. 

Minority Report style vertical displays are used standing up, with the operator almost invariably using the area of screen at eye level, when using fingertip control is more natural and the ergonomics work.
Which is possibly another reason why a hybrid iPad / Mac won’t appear anytime soon.

John Kheit

cube fan, craigf, I think the important thing to note here is I’m not advocating a vertical touch screen.  What is cool about the Xcode emulator is it currently works on your mac, with your mouse or touchpad, and it works well. You don’t need any new hardware to gain the benefits.

Now Apple could make some of the gestures work even better in the emulator.  And of course, the wouldn’t use an actual emulator.  They’d take that tech and develop it so you don’t need to be a developer for it to work.  You just double click on an an app, it would run (either through emulation or translation or fat binaries) in its own sandbox window (perhaps the window looks like an iPhone or iPad like the current emulator window, so you know right off the bat this is not and OS X native app).  And then you use it wither with your mouse or touchpad.  No need at all for a touch screen.


What is the advantage of running iOS apps on my Mac while my iPhone is sitting beside my keyboard? It’s likely that those apps without counterparts on the Mac don’t belong there. For any given function, a Mac app using the OSX UI will be easier and consistent on a big screen. If iCloud isn’t easy enough for syncing data it should be improved, not short-circuited. Lastly, if you consider future products, do you want to run iWatch apps in an emulator on a Mac too?

John Kheit

Kinda already in the article.  You can’t copy/paste from your mac to your iPhone from your desktop and vice versa (at least not without some kind of kludgy app).  You cannot see two apps side by side on your iPhone as your iPhone only lets you see one app at a time, and even on windows phones, only 2 at a time. Making iPhone apps as part of a more powerful desktop environment can bring about all kinds of new workflows.

As for iWatch, let’s hold off and see if/what happens.


There’s been several times where I have wished I could just open up an iPhone/iPad app on my Mac for 3 general reasons:
1. Some very narrow-focused purpose because the iOS app just did the job so much easier and with less fuss than the native OS X app or a Web browser
2. There is no app for OS X like there is for iOS
3. The iOS app has features the OS X app does not have

It seems like a small feat for Apple to allow iOS apps to open in iPhone or iPad fix-sized windows and allow input by the mouse or trackpad (I find the author’s appeal for touch-sensitive apps to be a bit extreme, but I’m glad to have read his thoughts).  One issue this may create though is a cannibalization of native OS X apps.  However it could be a foreshadowing of a day of the new ‘universal’ app - one that runs on all iOS and Mac devices.

I’ll give you one example.  EyeTV has been making OS X software for their TV tuners for years.  When they came out with their iOS app, it doesn’t let you do nearly everything the OS X app does, but it does some small things - like setup new recordings on any EyeTV device on your local network - that the OS X app still doesn’t let you do (for a while I don’t even think you could have 2 Macs with EyeTV software installed to even know about each other, even thought that’s not the case now). 

Since iOS apps have always been designed with mobile in mind, they have always been more focused on cloud-centric solutions for sharing data across other devices.  A lot of OS X-native apps still don’t focus on this or are way behind their iOS counterparts in implementation.

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