Apple unifies its app stores by extending the universal purchase option to Mac apps

Apple surprised its app developer community today with the official announcement that they’ll soon be able to sell their cross-platform apps as one universal purchase, including, for the time, apps that run on macOS. For consumers, a universal purchase option allows them to just pay once for an app that works across devices, including iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and/or Mac. Developers, meanwhile, will be able to entice customers to buy their Mac and iOS app together, or other combinations of apps. They’ll also be able to more easily sync customers’ in-app purchases and subscriptions across platforms.

Apple says support for universal purchase will roll out in March 2020.

In preparation for the changes, the App Store categories will be unified across the iOS App Store and Mac App Store, to make apps more “discoverable,” Apple says.

Apple’s App Store categories are rarely updated, so this too is a notable change that will impact all developers — including those without a universal app bundle to sell. By listing their app in a new category, developers may have a better shot at ranking higher on the list of Top apps, compared with competing in an existing category alongside far more apps.

On iOS, developers will be able to list their app in two new categories: “Developer Tools” and “Graphics & Design.”

The Mac App Store is gaining several other categories coming from iOS, including “Books,” “Food & Drink,” “Magazines & Newspapers,” “Navigation” and “Shopping.”

In addition, the “Photography” and “Video” categories on the Mac App Store will be combined into “Photo & Video,” to better sync up with iOS. And “Kids” will no longer be a subcategory within “Games” on the Mac App Store.

Apple says developers can choose to either create a new app for these platforms using a single app record in App Store Connect, or they can add platforms to an existing app record to take advantage of the new universal purchase option. The feature will be enabled by default for Mac Catalyst apps and made available to non-Catalyst apps, too.

Developers can download the Xcode 11.4 beta update released today to get started, but the option doesn’t go live for the public until the March launch date.

This isn’t the first time that developers have been able to distribute their apps together as one purchase, to be clear. If you’ve ever bought an iPhone app and gained the iPad or Apple Watch app alongside it, for example, you are already familiar with this universal purchase option. What’s new is that Apple is now bringing this same functionality to Mac apps for the first time.

Of course, a universal purchase doesn’t make sense for all apps, so developers will need to weigh the pros and cons for themselves, based on how they want to do business. But the option does represent a significant step in unifying the separate app ecosystems Apple offers, which could spur more Mac app development in years to come.

The Xcode beta was released today alongside other macOS and iOS betas, which together are bringing new features like screen time communication limits on Mac, head pointer tech for Mac, new Memoji stickers, CarPlay updates and iCloud folder sharing.