Friday, October 22, 2010 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Mac App Store

The Mac App Store certainly has great potential: more software that’s easier for customers to find, buy, install, and manage—and more sales for developers. I can’t imagine that there won’t be a sufficient mass of good applications for it to be a success. The potential market is too tempting, even for developers who already have their own stores, license generators, and software update mechanisms. But what’s next? We start out with an optional Mac App Store, such as Apple has described, but it’s not clear to me what the eventual equilibrium will be.

As Jonathan Rentzsch and others have written, the current guidelines ensure that the store will start out as an incomplete, sort of dumbed-down collection of applications:

My fellow Mac developers are laughing at the Mac App Store guidelines. They’re reporting that apps they’ve been shipping for years — a number of them Apple Design Award-winning — would be rejected from the Mac App Store. These are proven apps, beloved by their users. The current guidelines are clearly out-of-touch.

Depending on how you read the guidelines, it’s possible that none of my applications would be accepted by Apple, even though I’ve worked hard to follow best practices and to avoid private APIs and sketchy behavior. Supposing that the guidelines aren’t fixed, some types of useful products may never be approved, and the captive audience will not know that these applications exist. Other developers will be pressured either to cut useful features (or bug workarounds) to satisfy Apple or to make a separate App Store version with fewer features. (There would need to be a separate App Store build, anyway, to remove the serial number validation and software update checking, but the question is whether it would be a “Lite” version.)

There may also be different pricing inside and outside of the store. The App Store doesn’t allow trials, refunds, upgrades, discounts, or transfers. Since Apple takes such a large cut (about 9 times what PayPal charges), a developer could charge less for customers who buy direct and still net more from them. I know that, given the choice, I’ll continue to buy from developers directly. The developer gets more money; I get more control over my installations and backups; and I get timely updates and possibly more features.

This is sort of the best of both worlds, though it’s more work for the developer and slightly confusing for customers. The question is whether Apple will want to sustain this model. Is the App Store meant to have “everything,” or is it for “trusted” apps that are smaller and simpler, with pro apps sold elsewhere? Can Apple market the App Store as the best way to buy Mac software when key software is not available and App Store purchasers are in some ways second-class citizens?

Will Apple eventually relax the Mac App Store guidelines, so that virtually all non-haxie software can be included? Or will they stop promoting non–App Store applications and halt updates to the Downloads page (as they did, again, for two weeks this month)? Who would be surprised if Apple eventually deprecated non–App Store apps through a warning (“This application was not signed by Apple; don’t trust it.”) or perhaps a ban?

I don’t know how this will play out, but I’m pretty sure that the Mac App Store is the biggest news in desktop software in a long time.

6 Comments

"As Jonathan Rentzsch and others have written, the current guidelines ensure that the store will start out as an incomplete, sort of dumbed-down collection of applications:"

The first question I would ask is what is the [initial] purpose of the app store.

My gut tells me it's for consumers looking for consumer apps (whatever that is), not utilities which probably don't stand a chance in the current style of the iOS app store, though we shall see.

We live in interesting times, and that has to be a good thing :)

It look like Apple try to promote simple apps like the one we found on iOS, but I don't think I'm using a single app on my Mac that respect all the Store's constraints. They are by far more restrictive for real life application. Even Apple will not be able to sold a single application that conforms to there rules.

For that reason, I'm sure Apple is not going to lock down the Mac, but is just trying to create yet another way to distribute application.

"Who would be surprised if Apple eventually deprecated non–App Store apps through a warning (“This application was not signed by Apple; don’t trust it.”) or perhaps a ban?"

A warning, or some kind of check box in the security preference pane or in parental controls, that could happen. But an outright ban? That'd make the Mac so much deficient. For instance, is your AppleScript droplet an application? What about your automator workflows? What about a shell script? A PHP page for your prototype website? And macros in your Word documents? All of them can cause as much harm as an application. Would all this get banned like they're on iOS? Should I run Windows on a virtual machine to do serious work now? Or will virtual machines be banned like they are on iOS?

I'd be very surprised to see Apple enforce a outright ban. But then I've been surprised in the past when Apple banned "translation layers" and non C/C++/Obj-C languages, so perhaps it'll happen, as stupid as it is. And perhaps they'll then revert their decision.

I really appreciate these thoughts. I am weary of the Insanely Great reactions without anyone having really thought things through.

"Should I run Windows on a virtual machine to do serious work now?"

The jury is still out on whether or not Mac iOS (aka the world after Lion) will be a platform for doing serious work or not.

I personally think it likely that Cupertino is going to voluntarily let the hard-core of general purpose computer users simply exit the platform. The profits lie elsewhere.

And, of course, Mac iOS boxes likely won't be running on Intel chips, so if that virtual machine is permitted, it'll be slowed down through emulation...

"Or will virtual machines be banned like they are on iOS?"

Things could get far worse than you imagine. In the dystopian path Cupertino seems to be meandering down, the user may not even have access to the file system in Mac iOS. Apps store their own docs, and all.

Lamborghini used to make tractors. Porsche used to make trucks. Companies go off in different directions some times...

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Rentzsch writes:

My fellow Mac developers are laughing at the Mac App Store guidelines. They’re reporting that apps they’ve been shipping for years — a number of them Apple Design Award-winning — would be rejected from the Mac App Store. These are proven apps, beloved by their users. The current guidelines are clearly out-of-touch.

I think this isn't correct. The guidelines aren't out-of-touch. The guidelines are a deliberate attempt to use the next couple of years getting developers who wish to remain on the platform into compliance with Apple's rules. The rules will shift a bit during that time. Developers who wish to remain on the platform will shift much more than a bit.

In other words, from Apple's POV, it's the developers who are out-of-touch, and Apple's job is to gently but forcibly show them the way.

Elsewhere, he correctly notes:

Studying the details of Apple’s current implementation, it becomes clear Apple crafted the Mac App Store policies primarily with its own interests in mind, not of its customers and certainly not its developers.

But then he concludes with what I find to be a strange paragraph:

For all its flaws, the Mac App Store is a step in the right direction. All Apple has to do is switch [from] policies which benefit Apple to policies that benefit its customers and developers.

Why would Apple switch away from policies that benefit Apple?

[…] the lines of the system that Wil Shipley proposed. The technology behind Gatekeeper is good and unsurprising. What’s important is how Apple will use it and what comes […]

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