Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sketch Leaving the Mac App Store

Bohemian Coding (comments):

There are a number of reasons for Sketch leaving the Mac App Store—many of which in isolation wouldn’t cause us huge concern. However as with all gripes, when compounded they make it hard to justify staying: App Review continues to take at least a week, there are technical limitations imposed by the Mac App Store guidelines (sandboxing and so on) that limit some of the features we want to bring to Sketch, and upgrade pricing remains unavailable.

Federico Viticci:

Sketch is, quite possibly, one of the most popular image editing apps for professionals who use Macs nowadays, and it’s yet another high-profile departure from the Mac App Store.


At this stage, we are far beyond the point of acknowledging there is a problem on the Mac App Store. We are not talking a bunch of isolated cases anymore – leaving the Mac App Store has become an accepted trend among developers, which is compounded by the sad state of abandon in which Apple has left it and other issues developers illustrated in the past.

Milen Dzhumerov:

Apple has completely lost the goodwill of Mac developers. The one and only reason the ones that haven’t gone bankrupt are still staying is because they have no other choice due to platform lock-in. Every single conversation that I’ve had with indies recently have gone along the same lines: Apple is killing the indie scene.


And now you have another flagship OS X app ditching the MAS due to the multitude problems it creates. The message is loud and clear - if you’re a real software business, not a hobbyist at home, don’t waste your time with the MAS - it simply does not allow you to run your business properly.

When the companies building the flagship apps for the platform publicly state they cannot do business due to the restrictions of the Mac App Store and then abandon the dysfunctional virtual marketplace, then you know Apple have pushed them beyond the edge. No company would just decide to leave the MAS unless the situation is hurting them significantly and holding them back.

One of my bug fix updates for El Capitan is still in review after 59 days.

Update (2015-12-02): John Gruber:

Deeply troubling indictment of the Mac App Store. Sketch isn’t the first big name professional app to be pulled from the Mac App Store (Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit, Panic’s Coda, Quicken, just to name a few). But Sketch is the poster child for Mac App Store era professional Mac software. It’s the sort of app Apple might demo in a keynote — and the winner of an Apple Design Award. Apple thinks so highly of it that they provide Sketch templates for Apple Watch UI designers. It’s incredibly popular (and was among the top-grossers on the Mac App Store), Mac-only, and they want no part of the Mac App Store.

Seth Lilly:

As a consumer, I like the Mac App Store. It’s a one-stop shop. That convenience is what has made the iOS App Store indispensable. But as a software publisher I’m not willing to make the trade-off in customer experience for discoverability.

As with Bohemian Coding, he’s saying that the customer experience is better outside of the store. That once would have been a very controversial opinion, because the store makes buying and updating so easy, but those pluses are offset by features that are missing or harder to use (because of sandboxing), bug fixes that are delayed (because of App Review), upgrades that are separate apps, and not being able to help customers directly.

Greg Maletic:

Few apps leave the iOS Store. But it’s the pro apps that weren’t ever created for iOS, due to the Store’s limitations, that are the problem.

Rene Ritchie:

Much of the debate has focused on the reasons stated in the Sketch post, on the perennials—trial periods/refunds, upgrade pricing, direct customer relationships, freedom from sandboxing, disintermediation of review, etc. All mechanisms and realities from a time before mobile shattered the expectations associated with traditional software businesses.

They’re easy to point to, and have nostalgia on their side, but it’s tough to say what if any substantive difference they’d make in the post-”pop app” world. It’s one of the many reasons why presenting perceived solutions to a problem is never as productive as stating problems and leaving them open to potentially novel solutions. It’s the “faster horses” trap.

I see this point made from time to time and couldn’t disagree more. I would love it if Apple were working on something better than a faster horse for the Mac App Store. But all the evidence points to Apple’s Model T being an actual car. There are not even rumors about improvements to the store. And, like the iPad filesystem, no one else seems to have a better idea, either. At this point, the problems have been common knowledge for years, countless Radars have been filed, yet people doubt that Apple even cares about them. The perceived solutions worked well for decades and continue to work outside of the Mac App Store. That doesn’t mean that they would solve all the problems. But it’s heartbreaking that, absent a better idea, Apple would let the market crash rather than try them.

See also: the prescience of Wolf Rentzsch and Rich Siegel.

Craig Hockenberry:

Worse, I don’t think Apple really understands the problems developers are facing just to stay in business.

The effects on the ecosystem are long-term: the fallout from an unhealthy indie scene won’t be felt until it’s too late.

Manton Reece:

All this time, Apple could have been iterating on the Mac App Store, improving sandboxing entitlements, improving review times, customer interaction, and more. Yet they have not.

Update (2015-12-08): Jason Snell:

The continued rotting of the Mac App Store seems to be the most likely scenario here.

See also: Release Notes.

Update (2015-12-14): Rory Prior:

I was initially very enthusiastic about the Mac App Store (MAS), but as the years have ticked by with literally no improvements, that enthusiasm has waned to be replaced firstly by concern and now increasingly by anger and frustration.


In some cases like with Microsoft and Adobe or Barebones and Panic, they have enough clout to survive outside the MAS. But for smaller developers, including ThinkMac, the MAS has sucked so much oxygen out of the rest of the world, that it would be suicide to pull out. So we stick around, accruing cuts and counting down the days until we finally succumb to them.

23 Comments RSS · Twitter

If Apple could also leave the MAS to deliver OS and components updates, it would be great.

Just the usual Apple behavior with unsexy legacy: Neglect, Deprecation, Abandonement.
Tim Cook: “Why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?”

"Every single conversation that I've had with indies recently have gone along the same lines: Apple is killing the indie scene."

Sadly enough, one of the reasons I've been comfortable sticking with Snowy is that the production of new, highly worthwhile indie software has slowed to a trickle post-Snowy, compared to the torrential pace before.

Eddy Cue simply must go. Everything under him is failing and has been failing for years.

"If Apple could also leave the MAS to deliver OS and components updates, it would be great."

In practice that's its main use along with games and small utilities that can fit in the sandbox. Not much else is there anymore.

I'm running a couple of design labs in a university. I've been trying to get us some sw via our purchases department. After nearly 6 months we gave up as the process of applying for educational volume licenses are close to impossible to get through. We really needed this sw and luckily the indie sw company changed their own marketplace to cater for our needs. This in the end was easier than buying from this store.

My theory is that the MAS in not well suited for anything else than personal purchases, and such leaving lots of money on the table.

As mentioned, discoverability becomes a problem, especially now that VersionTracker and MacUpdate have succumbed.

@Clark: "In practice that's its main use along with games and small utilities that can fit in the sandbox."

In practice, the issues compared to the previous Software Update solutions are:

- the notification about available updates is just plain annoying and there's no option to dismiss it quickly (on El Capitan).
- you waste your time accepting the EULA that changes every other month or having to switch stores if you have multiple Apple IDs (developer and user for instance).
- you can not get a complete list of the available OS and system components updates in the Mac App Store application without clicking the "More…" button.
- you can not know the size of an update before launching the update.
- the download server is not that fast.
- the UI is slow.

"If Apple could also leave the MAS to deliver OS and components updates, it would be great."

Except even for that it's not. Software Update used to work just fine for upgrading OS components. Now as a part of App Store it requires an Apple ID login. And not just any administrator authentication; the Apple ID for the person who first downloaded the thing. For example, on one of my family's computers, I was the first one to do a system update. Now it won't let my wife do them. On another computer, it's the reverse. On my wife's main development machine (which I don't use much these days), I was the one who first installed Xcode. So she needs me to install any updates for her most important software.

It's broken for third-party apps. It's broken for Apple apps. It's broken for system updates. No matter how you slice it, it's broken.

Although I recognize the inherent problems with the current state of affairs on the Mac App Store, I don’t think this is a case of “Neglect - Deprecation - Abandonment” on Apple’s part, as stated Nat! in another comment.

If Apple is seemingly neglecting the MAS, it probably means they are working on something that doesn’t warrant much further investment in what they have now. That’s what they did with the iWork suite, with iPhoto, or even with hardware like the Mac Pro, all of which saw similar cases of public outrage because of a lack of updates.

If I had to make a bold prediction, I would say that the near future won’t see any difference between a “Mac” and an “iOS” app store. There will just be “the” App Store containing universal apps that can stretch their UI from the smallest iPhone to desktop monitors to widescreen TVs. This new App Store might even contain some optimizations to support more business models (like “try before you buy” and “upgrade pricing”).

My other bold prediction: this evolution will come from the bottom, and more specifically from the iPad Pro. That thing is a supercar among iOS devices, so what’s keeping it from switching to an “OS X” like interface (i.e. windows, mouse and pointers) when docked to certain accessories? Apple has an awful lot in place already to make this happen, from autolayout to app slicing to powerful ARM chips.

2016 will be the year of iOS X. Maybe that’s a good opportunity to merge it with OS X. That’s when the initially disruptive iOS will finally have reached full maturity.

Consider the possibility that the big chicks are being... encouraged, let's say, out of the nest (which is crowded). Birds of a feather...

All of this is further evidence that Apple has a growing problem with software. (Think of insane bugs with iOS 9.)

The rot is starting to set in. Once modern tech companies get to a certain size, they keel over.

Apple Design? Excellent.

Apple Hardware? Couldn't be better.

Apple Software? Not so much.

"If Apple is seemingly neglecting the MAS, it probably means they are working on something that doesn’t warrant much further investment in what they have now."

You mean like how the were seemingly neglecting Aperture for years, while they worked on a much better application for professional and prosumer photo editing and management… oh, wait…

@Tim W. -- I share the feeling too that something is coming for the App Store... just looking at what they are doing with iTunes Connect you know they are not staying still. The only sad part is that if they have some improvements in preparation it probably won't be announced before WWDC, and won't be available before the new OS is, and won't be backward compatible with current OS versions. That means at least a year before things could maybe improve. Not the end of the world, but things could get worse by then for the MAS.

They will never really "merge" iOS and OS X. But I can picture them putting iOS on Macs (adding windows and a mouse pointer) and allowing OS X/AppKit apps to run in some form of compatibility layer like the Classic Mac OS, or Carbon apps, in the early days of OS X.

"Few apps leave the iOS Store. But it’s the pro apps that weren’t ever created for iOS, due to the Store’s limitations, that are the problem."

This is a pretty confusing tweet, since, of course, apps can't leave the iOS store, while they (still) can with the MAS.

But assuming it's not a typo, it still has immense relevance to the MAS debate.

Going back to the Milen Dzhumerov comment:

"Every single conversation that I’ve had with indies recently have gone along the same lines: Apple is killing the indie scene."

The economic, engineering, review process, and other impediments of the MAS have imposed a crushing opportunity cost on Mac indie developers that has directly resulted in a only a trickle of interesting pro-ish software being released in the post-MAS era, compared to the absolute torrent in the pre-MAS era.

Even if we ignore the economic pressures placed by 'race to the bottom' and 30% slice, we have to consider the other factors.

Not only do things like sandboxing, iCloud pressures, and other restrictions reduce the functionality of apps, but again we are back to opportunity cost. Devs are spending their limited time and resources dealing with sandboxing, iCloud, the review process, sticking only to approved API's, and divining all the other unwritten rules, when instead they should be innovating.

The MAS has indeed been responsible for tons of useful apps that are just never created in the first place.

@Michel Fortin, sorry if I didn't make myself clear. I don't think iOS and OS X will actually "merge" Windows style. Macs will probably run OS X and Intel for as long as they stay relevant.

What I wanted to say was that, at this point on the maturity curve and with this powerful hardware (iPad Pro), iOS *might* be just one major update away from supporting a "desktop-like" GUI layer. On ARM. But with a single App Store supporting all device sizes.

I had responded to this story over at Daring Fireball –

Regarding the Mac App Store - especially for Mac OS X - i know it’s the only game in town for iOS, which is where Apple devotes it’s attention these days. Not entirely, but first and and with the most priority.

"The Mac App Store should be designed to make developers like Bohemian Coding (and Bare Bones, and Panic, etc.) happy. It should make developing for the Mac better, not worse than selling outside the App Store. These are among the best apps on the platform, from developers who have been loyal to Apple and the Mac for decades.

The Mac App Store is rotting, at least for productivity software. There’s no other way to put it. If this hasn’t set off alarm bells within Apple, something is very wrong." John Gruber, Daring Fireball

I am a freelance graphic and web designer - and while I do have a fair pile of apps from the App Store, the OVERWHELMING majority of the professional apps I use every day - Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite most prominently - are NOT on the App Store. Many of them left, and many of them never were there, the things they need to do, that I need them to do are just not possible within Apple’s restrictions.

But when you drive away developers, especially loyal developers. That’s a HUGE warning bell. But sometimes Apple gets so involved with their next Big Thing, or their Own Thing, that they just don’t seem to LISTEN.


Kurt E. Griffith
Creative Director

Fantastic Realities Studio

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