Why Can’t I Run iPhone applications on my Mac?

A good friend of mine asked a relevant question last night over a birthday brewski last night.  “Why can’t I run my iPhone applications on my Mac?”  After a moments pause, I replied, only because Apple says so.

So before you write tell me I’m an idiot (which I might be anyway), I know there are some really valid reasons for not running portable apps on the desktop.  There is no motion sensor on the Mac so any application that needs the motion sensor is out.  Likewise anything that uses GPS or the compass is out.

One even could argue that many of the apps that pinch to zoom in and out would be out as well.  But let’s think about it for a minute.  How many of your iPhone apps really use all that?  On my iPhone the one app that uses this the most is Safari.  No need to use that on the desktop.  Same with Mail and a number of others.

Obviously Apple has figured it out because their emulator runs onto desktop.  I think Apple *could* run the iPhone apps on the desktop but they choose not to.

It makes me wonder if widgets wasn’t an early attempt at making an iPhone app.  Many of the things we’ve seen incorporated into Mac OS X have really been for the iPod/iPhone/iPad.  Coverflow looks nice on the Mac but I don’t see a lot of people using it – but on the iPod it sort of makes sense.  Widgets, while useful, have never made a lot of sense to me, but making a lightweight application for the iPod makes a LOT of sense.  Another example is the beautiful pop over control on the iPad.  It reminds me a lot (but not exactly) like the HUD windows on Mac OS X.

Those are just a few examples.  I’m sure we could come up with some other examples of Mac OS X-first technology that, while cool, was a gimmick on Mac OS X but makes a lot of sense for their portable hardware.  I wonder how many developers at Apple have worked on something and said, “This is stupid” only to see their work in a new device years later where it makes perfect sense?  I would love to know.

So Apple chooses not to allow iPhone apps on the desktop.  I’m cool with that.  But think about how nice it would be to have some of the iPhone games (all 50,000 of them) available on the Mac.  Even in a Windowed environment they would still be decent games.  Maybe a simple wrapper to allow the arrow keys to handle motion control would suffice for most of the games.  Maybe not, but it is an interesting thought.

Those 50,000 games would put Mac gaming in the mainstream very quickly.  Of course it might have the effect of killing desktop only game development but perhaps not.  I think there’s plenty of market out there for people like me that will gladly play $1.99 to $9.99 for a quality casual game.

Plants vs. Zombies is my current favorite iPhone/iPad game.  It has a desktop version but I don’t want to pay for it again.  On the iPad the iPhone version looks great at double size and I imagine it would in a double size window on my desktop too (which, if memory serves is roughly half the size of the window for the desktop version).

I think this could be a huge deal for the Mac OS X market.  I doubt Apple will allow that any time soon but I’ve often been wrong before.

My friend needs to give himself more credit.  It was a good question.  What are your thoughts?

(By the way, Happy Birthday, Robert!)

10 thoughts on “Why Can’t I Run iPhone applications on my Mac?

  1. I have no idea about the technicalities but there are indeed a few things I’d like to see available on the desktop machine and most of these cost peanuts to boot.

    I suspect that is one reason we haven’t got iPhone apps on the desktop – iphone pricing doesn’t make sense for the desktop environment if any significant work is required to port the apps.

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  3. When you compile iPhone apps in Xcode to run on the simulator, it’s actually compiling them as Mac applications – it’s actually a simulator, rather than an emulator.

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  5. IPhone apps would be tiny and not offer a true Mac experience — besides the use of multitouch instead of mouse and keyboard, which would make their use difficult if not impossible on a Mac, iPhone apps typically have less function an a Mac app. Why would you want that?

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