Mac App Store: Thoughts

A couple of weeks ago, I made a case for a Mac OS X App Store. I know that Apple did not just magically read the article and go ‘Great idea.’ The Mac OS X App Store is something that has been in development for a while. Now that it will be arriving in the next 90 days, I figured I would take a good thorough look at the good, the bad, and potentially dangerous aspects of a Mac OS X App Store.

This is what I thought it might look like.


But alas, I was wrong. Let’s go through some of the differing aspects of the Mac App Store.

Payments. The split for revenue is going to remain the same as the iOS software: 70/30. Is this good or bad? I am not entirely sure either way. Yes, it is the same percentage iOS developers are used to, but this could be entirely too onerous for some current Mac Developers who do host their own store. This may work well for independent developers who do not currently have a storefront and do not wish to set one up.

Free Updates. The iOS App store requires that any developer provide free updates to their applications. For most developers providing updates is not a problem. For some, they may wish to charge for an update. Within iOS, this can be accomplished by providing an update, but allowing for an ‘in-app’ purchase to gain additional functionality. There was no mention of updates at the ‘Back to The Mac’ event and there is also no mention within the Mac Developer agreement. An alternative is to create a new version and release that as an entirely separate application, but there are complications with that unless your application allows syncing.

Application Portability. With the Mac App Store each user will be able to run ANY applications downloaded within the store on ALL of their devices. This is much like the iOS model where you only buy the application once and run it on all of your iOS devices. This will make users quite happy, yet developers, like Adobe, will be chagrinned due to losing sales since they can no longer charge a user on a per-license basis. Pricing for applications has not been unveiled, but I presume it is going to be the same as the iOS App Store where you can go from free to $999.99, if you wish.

Digital Rights Management (DRM). There was no mention, during the ‘Back to the Mac’ event of any DRM being allowed on the applications during the presentation. This would also include serial numbers and the like. The Mac developer agreement states that NO DRM can be used without Apple’s express permission. This could prove interesting considering there may be some companies, not many, that may be able to convince Apple that they need to have DRM for one reason or another. However I do not believe there will be that many companies who will attempt to go through the hassle.

Curation. Apple has developed a walled-garden with iOS Applications. As an individual, you cannot add your own third-party devices without jail-breaking your device. Apple is beginning to set the basis of a locked-down version of the Mac with the introduction of the Mac App Store. They are beginning to curate what is ‘readily’ available to the Mac audience.

Steve Jobs stated in the ‘Back to the Mac’ event that this will NOT be the only way to go get applications onto Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. I think that come Mac OS 11, the only way to get applications will be via the Mac App Store. If this does come to fruition, I firmly believe it would be the end of the Mac. But it could easily be that come Mac OS 11, there will be a complete merge of iOS and Mac OS and there will only be one set of hardware and one way to acquire applications. This could be a very bad precedent, and ultimately it would be a turn for an entirely closed platform.

Being tech savvy, I am sure there will be additional stores cropping up, in addition to any that are currently available. For the new Mac user, which accounts for 50% of Apple’s sales of Macs last quarter, using Apple’s Mac App Store is going to be a no-brainer. Moreover, the Mac App Store is going to become a ‘trusted’ place for new Mac users to be able to download and install applications quickly and easily, and from a trusted vendor.

The Roll-out of Mac App Store. Apple has a 90-day release window for the release of the Mac App Store. Sure, they could have easily waited until the release of 10.7 Lion, slated for Summer ’11, to roll-out this feature. Instead, they decided to do surprise the tech journalists and Mac users by introducing this early. Apple has opted to jump on the momentum of the iOS App Store and port it to the Mac OS sooner rather than later. This move will allow Apple to gain additional revenue more quickly. This move can only add to the $1 Billion Apple made last quarter off of the iTunes store as a whole. This will also allow users to transition more quickly to Mac OS X 10.7 Lion by getting them accustomed to installing applications via iTunes instead of from an unknown website. One would hope that all of a user’s current applications will work with Mac OS 10.7 Lion upon arrival, although I am sure there will be some updates along the way.

Developers. I am not entirely sure how current iOS only developers will feel. I know, as an independent developer, that the Mac App store, if I choose to build an application for the Mac, is a great way to sell my application. It allows me to reduce the amount of time and effort spent setting up a storefront and would allow me to put more time toward development, which is never a bad thing. However, the 30% cut that Apple gets is somewhat bothersome. With the iOS apps, you do not have a choice. With the Mac App Store, for the time being at least, you are able to put your applications on another store, or host your own. If you can negotiate better rates then it might be easier to host elsewhere.

App Pricing. Currently, with the iOS Apps, it is a race to the bottom. If your application isn’t priced at $2.99, it doesn’t sell as well as a similar application at $0.99. To me, this just seems like consumers mis-judging the value and time of the developer that is required in order to create the applications that they want to download. It is not often you see an application go up in price. Sure, there are those that are done to make a point, but it does not happen often. I hope that the Mac App Store will buck this trend and return applications to the ‘normal’ levels that we have been seeing right now.

Waste Reduction. Some of the items not generally thought about when purchasing boxed software is the amount of extra packaging that goes along with that product. You have the box, instruction manual, disc, sleeve for the disc, and any other doodads that may be within the packaging. Not only does this take energy and materials to create, but it also takes up some space for a user to store this package. With the Mac App Store, all you have to do is login and re-download your software.

Overall, I believe that the Mac App Store was the biggest announcement made at the ‘Back to the Mac’ event. The introduction of the App Store is a cause for concern regarding the direction that Apple is taking the Mac. Of course this is fully within their right and anybody who does not wish to play in their yard can pack up and leave. I am not 100% sure how well this will work for Apple. I think for the average or new Apple user this will see it as a fantastic addition in order to get their feet wet. However this can potentially be dangerous on several levels. I hope Apple does not alienate developers. If that happens, there will no longer be a need for an App Store regardless of platform. If you would like to see a preview, head on over to Apple’s Preview page.

I'm into everything technology related, particularly anything Apple related. I enjoy programming and tend to lean towards server-based technologies over client-based. You can contact me on twitter, via e-mail, or follow me on friendfeed.