Reflections on the Mac App Store

Its been 9 days since the Mac App Store was opened for business, but it already feels like its been around forever. It brings the simplicity of iOS to the desktop in a whole new way. Let’s take a look …

Dumbing Down vs. Simplifying

Installing an app from the Mac App Store couldn’t be easier. The download even gets added to the Dock. For experienced Mac users, it seems like Apple has really dumbed down the entire thing. No .dmg files can be found here. No checking for updates, no virtual disk images. Click and boom.

That said, for new users (Hi, Mom!), the App Store is great. It looks and works like the App Store on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. That is by design. It is far less complicated than going out into the wild west of the Internet, exploring the depths of the Downloads folder and guessing on how to update something down the road. All of which makes iOS (and iTunes) customers feel more at home on OS X — something Apple desperately wants to make happen.

In short, it’s the “Halo Effect” in Cocoa form. And while maybe it’s a little insulting to some, it’s perfect for Apple’s growing population of new customers.

Adding Value

When the original App Store opened in 2008 for the iPhone, it was a massive hit because up until then, there were no 3rd-party apps. Anything that needed to be done had to be done in the browser. Users were ecstatic over native apps.

Most Mac users (myself included), however, already have all of the software they need to complete their tasks. The Mac App Store has added a single vital piece of software to my workflow. While that may not be true for everyone, it is for many. Over time, I think the App Store will become more valuable, especially with suites like iLife and iWork available as individual apps.

Gaming on the Mac

While some iOS greats like Angry Birds are making a huge splash on the Mac, large-title games like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Civilization IV: Colonization are on the Mac for the first time. Clearly the wave of games that iOS users enjoy is heading to the Mac quite quickly.

I’d love to see more interaction between iOS and the Mac with gaming. I’d love to be able to use an iPhone as a game controller for my 27-inch iMac. While the APIs don’t seem quite ready yet, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Hopefully features like Game Center will make the jump, too.

Maybe a Little Beta

Sadly, the opening of the Mac App Store wasn’t as smooth as it could have been. Users have been reporting issues with random errors and problems with the App Store recognizing installed programs. App developers also seem to be having issues adjusting to the new model of business, with some fully embracing the App Store, and others selling apps on their own site in parallel to the App Store. With limitations like “buy once, get upgrades forever” in the App Store, its unclear what future development and pricing will look like. Remember the uproar around Tweetie 2 for iPhone?

While I’m sure the technical and business issues will be resolved over time, they are making things a little more complicated than Apple would probably like for now.

Additionally, Apple hasn’t provided the enterprise or education sector tools for managing the App Store. It’s unclear how many Macs a purchased app can legally run on at this point. With software updates built-in, the App Store takes software updates out of reach of OS X Server’s tools — a big problem for sysadmin types.

Most people I know managing Macs in the professional environment aren’t running 10.6.6 yet, but plan on having the App Store uninstalled on their machines once they’re up to the newest version of Snow Leopard.

Developers that are App Store-only may miss out on sales to these types of customers, though. Time will tell on how that will play out, as with most things.

The Future of the Mac

Clearly, the App Store is doing well, and clearly it is the future of the Mac. While more “pro” apps like the Adobe Creative Suite or even Microsoft Office aren’t in the App Store (and probably never will be), the average user will be find most of the software they need on Apple’s shiny virtual shelves. Yes, it has its problems, but the Mac App Store looks like the beginning of a brand new era for the Mac — one where the platform enjoys more developers than ever before.

Welcome to the future.

Stephen Hackett, formerly a Lead Mac Genius at Apple, now spends his days running the IT department of a large non-profit in Memphis, TN. He writes about Apple, design and journalism at Like all twenty-somethings, you can find him… Full Bio