Why Apple’s Productivity Apps Should be Separated from macOS

As we are heading toward WWDC in June, many folks have ideas about what they expect or what they’d like to see. Something I’d like to see Apple do is remove their native apps (Mail, Calendar, Reminders, Contacts, and the like) from macOS.

Historically, Apple has kept these apps tied to the operating system release cycle. That means once a year, at best, we get some updates. I say “at best” because there are years in which these native apps get little, if anything, in terms of an update. This annual cycle plays a role in the pitiful state of some of these apps. Apple Mail is the poster child for this. We’ve been asking Apple to modernize Apple Mail for so many years now that, at this point, most pundits have just given up and moved on. Even when Apple does make significant improvements on a native app, Reminders is the most recent to get this, it still suffers because the refinements that become obvious after release will require a whole year to see an update (again, at best).

In contrast, look at the iWork Suite, Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. These apps have their own development teams and their own release cycles. As a result, we regularly see improvements, small and large, that make the apps more functional, user-friendly, and stable.

What is the basis for this seemingly arbitrary distinction between Pages and Reminders? They are both productivity apps that Apple’s customers rely upon daily. One has a dedicated team of developers and regular updates, and the other seems to have neither. Whatever the original reason was for giving Pages a team and making Reminders part of the operating system, I suspect few people are left at Apple that remember when or why. It feels something more akin to institutional momentum that keeps some apps trapped in the operating system while letting others escape it. Despite being a company that has so often freed itself from various forms of lock-in, it baffles me why Apple still shackles some of its most important applications to the operating system update cycle, but even after many years, it continues to be the case.

While I have hopes for Apple’s direction with its hardware and software at this year’s WWDC, I have little hope that they will remove these native apps from the operating system. I don’t know enough about the way Apple works with these apps to know why this continues, but it’s time to let them free of macOS.