macOS’s Sticker Problem

Since iOS 10 launched, many have bemoaned the lack of feature parity between Messages on iOS and macOS. While Messages on the Mac did gain some new features such as rich previews, Tapbacks, and the ability to view stickers, it still lacks the ability to use screen and bubble effects and to send stickers.

I’ve been thinking about how Apple could add stickers to Messages on the Mac and honestly, I’m stumped. It’s a much more complicated problem than I initially imagined.

First, there’s user expectations. I don’t know about you, but I would expect that all of the apps in the Messages app drawer on my phone would also be available on my Mac. For plain vanilla sticker packs that use the sticker template in Xcode, that could potentially be an easy transition, as Xcode could simply compile something that would work on macOS.

But what about sticker packs with custom code? Or full-fledged iMessage apps such as turn-based games? Users can’t tell the difference between a bare bones sticker pack and an iMessage app. They wouldn’t understand why some stickers and apps were available and some weren’t. What then? Does Apple require that developers add a Mac target to their iMessage app projects? (Uh…nope.)

And what about the built-in store? Users would need a way to re-download purchases and to purchase new apps and stickers. But what if a user purchases an app or sticker pack that’s bundled with an iOS app? What if that user doesn’t own an iOS device? They’d be paying for something they could only get partial value from.

Maybe Apple could sync users’ currently installed iMessage apps to the Mac and omit the store entirely, requiring users to manage their stickers and apps on their iOS device. However, requiring that users have an iOS device in order to use stickers in Messages seems insane. This solution also fails to address the issue of iMessage apps even running on the Mac in the first place.

The only thing I can think of in the short term (before the great merging of the iOS and macOS SDKs that will probably happen someday), is that when a user opens the Messages app drawer on a Mac, what pops up is essentially an iOS emulator. Is that even possible? I don’t know. It’d be slow as heck probably.

Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but it certainly seems like a tough problem to solve. Fortunately, it’s Apple’s problem to solve, not mine!