When Apple announced that they were developing an App Store for desktop OS X (which I guess I can start calling OS X again now that iOS has a name now) reactions were pretty mixed, and there was a lot of concern. Personally, I think this is going to really be a boon to OS X developers, for several reasons, ultimately because it finally makes it simple for mere mortals to buy and download apps (and keep them up to date!).
A lot of tech-savvy people like you or me might not think that downloading and buying OS X software is that big of an event. But it really is. You have to download the app, mount the disk image, install the app either by drag and drop or with an installer, and then you have the app. To buy the app, you have to go to the developer’s web site and work your way through the store (and hope that you’ll be able to trust this developer with this info). Then, you’ll pay for the app, and get either a serial number or some other license, and you’ll have to apply this.
Bringing the App Store back to the Mac simply makes sense. You can say what you will about all the concerns or questions a Mac App Store may raise, but I think there are a lot of no-nonsense users who discovered that it can be easy to put an app on your iPhone, and then turned to Apple asking why this simplicity isn’t possible on the Mac.
I was just listening to the TUAW talkcast where the Mac App Store was being discussed, and some caller went off on some tangent saying that if you took a poll, you’d find that the Apple customers who love their walled gardens are somehow freedom-hating Democrats (I’m truly not exaggerating here). Now that my palm is finally away from my face, I can say with utmost certainty that nobody is sitting in an Apple meeting room asking “how can we make sure our users have as little freedom as possible? Quick, let’s get an engineer on how to optimally maximize the oppression!” Of course, that’s because Apple isn’t the kind of company to design things in a meeting room. But when they are trying to design a new product, the question they are asking themselves is “how can we build the best user experience?” And the answer is “by designing the whole ecosystem ourselves.” Yes, it results in less flexibility, but that’s a side effect, not the goal.
One big complaint/concern among developers was “My app uses private APIs/kexts/some other hack so it won’t be allowed into the App Store. wharrrgarbl.” Is that really a surprise, though? This isn’t Apple trying to pull a dick move here, it’s Apple being sick of people who are hesitant to upgrade to new OS X versions because they know it’s going to break half their software because the software’s using undocumented APIs or other nonstandard hacks. It makes no sense for Apple to want to introduce that complexity for their customers. By creating this rule, an app from the Mac App Store has a sort of seal of approval from Apple signifying that it’s relatively future-proof.
A lot of the other concerns with the Mac App Store are largely questions, chiefly questions regarding whether the Mac App Store is going to have some of the same limitations that the iOS App Store has, like no trial versions, no upgrade pricing, no volume licenses, no special education pricing, etc. Despite these questions, I’m putting my money on these things not being there when the Mac App Store is first released. It’s how Apple rolls. First, you release your first version, which has some core features it will do very well, but it will be missing some things that are highly sought after because Apple isn’t ready yet. Then, Apple will slowly refine and add features, little by little.
I think it’ll be interesting to see how software developers handle this. Are they going to start giving up on their nonstandard apps? I hope not, because many apps I use daily require the use of undocumented APIs (iStat Menus, Dropbox, etc.).
For apps that would be App Store friendly, I wonder if developers will maintain two separate editions of their apps. I feel like many will do this, because many customers won’t want to let go of the freedoms granted by an app that’s not in the confines of the App Store. Plus, I think developers will appreciate being able to sell an app without losing Apple’s 30% cut. But maybe some will put up with the 30% cut knowing that they no longer have to maintain their own store and will get more sales from the extra exposure (I think this extra exposure will prove to be nontrivial).
The move to make a Mac app store is genius on Apple’s part, strategically. It helps Apple, because it will enable Apple to keep getting a stream of revenue on their Macs after they’re sold. This could potentially result in Apple selling cheaper Macs knowing that they’ll make up for the smaller up front profit margins, leading to even greater Mac sales. It helps developers, because it gives them a level playing field on which to market and sell their apps, and it saves them the hours of maintaining a web site and online store. It will also give these developers more money due to better exposure and exposure to customers they previously may not have had (i.e. the grandmas out there who are afraid to give their CC info to a random software publisher but trust Apple). Having healthier Mac developers is good for the Mac ecosystem, and it’s good for Apple. Most importantly, it benefits the consumer, because it makes buying and managing software as easy as buying tunes in the iTunes Store. And that, of course, directly benefits Apple.
But it’s a game changer, too. It changes the way the software developers build relationships with their customers. It puts Apple standing between customer and developer, which I personally am not a fan of. I like to talk directly to developers (and good developers like to talk directly to me).
And some wonder what future implications this holds. Surely many people had a vision of a future in which you can only install Mac App Store apps on your Mac, and many people (falsely) are using that premise to protest the not-yet-existent store. That’s a little unfair and just plain wrong (kind of like Republicans airing commercials saying that by not banning gay marriage schools are going to be required to talk about gay marriage). But in a few years, that could prove to be just around the corner. I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if OS 11 had a model like this. But it’s stupid to protest something that doesn’t yet exist. The Mac App Store is going to be a real shot in the arm for Mac software, and I’m excited to see newfound enthusiasm for Mac software. I just hope we don’t see a Mac App Store full of crapps.