Wednesday, January 6, 2021

10th Anniversary of the Mac App Store

Joe Rossignol:

Apple announced that the Mac App Store was “open for business” in a press release timed with the launch. “With more than 1,000 apps, the Mac App Store is off to a great start,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and former CEO. “We think users are going to love this innovative new way to discover and buy their favorite apps.”


Since its inception, the Mac App Store has attracted its fair share of criticism from developers. Apple has addressed some of these complaints over the years by allowing developers to offer free trials via in-app purchase, create app bundles, distribute apps on multiple Apple platforms as a universal purchase, view analytics for Mac apps, respond to customer reviews, and more, but some developers remain unsatisfied with the Mac App Store due to Apple’s review process, the lack of upgrade pricing, the lack of sandboxing exceptions for trusted developers, the absence of TestFlight beta testing for Mac apps, and other reasons.

Thinking back to the early days of the Mac App Store, I remember how its introduction killed a nascent third-party effort to build a similar store. And I recall how, just months after the store opened, Apple changed the rules to require that apps be sandboxed. Apps accepted under the prior rules were grandfathered in but not allowed to add any major features. As a result, in categories where sandboxing is impossible, searching the Mac App Store today only turns up results of apps that have been abandoned or haven’t had a major new version. At the time, most people expected that the sandbox capabilities would expand with each version so that eventually nearly all apps could be included. Instead, as with the rest of the Mac App Store, they have changed very little over the years.


13 Comments RSS · Twitter

What kinds of apps can't reasonably be made to run in the sandbox today?

The most onerous restriction I still see is the filesystem, but you can always be awkwardly file-at-a-time with a suggestion that the user turn on "Full Disk Access" to bypass that.

@Sam There’s a lot of disk/backup (and disk image) stuff that can’t be done even with Full Disk Access. There are issues related to executable files that it can’t handle. Various APIs (e.g. setting default apps) simply don’t work when sandboxed. Most of the rest of the issues I see (filesystem access, privileged operations, AppleScript, helper processes, plug-ins, private API) could be technically done but are in practice difficult or impossible for policy reasons or bugs. I’m sure there are others that I don’t recall off the top of my head. Every app that I sell is either outright not allowed under the current rules or severely limited by them.

Not gonna “celebrate” something that from its creation limited my options and continues to do so. I wanna go back to Kagi and Shareware.

“Celebrating the AppStore is like celebrating cancer.

Leo: The Mac App Store is and has always been *optional* for distributing software. You can still share and run (non-sandboxed) shareware on your 2021 Mac, the same as you could on your 1984 Mac. Apple has indicated that this is not going to change.

I know people with cancer, most of whom are still alive, and I doubt any of them would ever compare it to an app store. Nobody chooses to get cancer. Nobody ever weighed the downside of losing 30% of their annual revenue against the short-term convenience of leukemia.

Your comment is the hepatitis of metaphors.

@Ted The Mac App Store is actually mandatory for Safari extensions and for apps that use HLS streaming and some other APIs.

About upgrade pricing: they broke the standard way of distributing software. What started as a design choice evolved as an ideology for some reason. Alternatives are 1. subscriptions that users don’t like and don’t always make sense for all apps, 2. IAP upgrades that require including both old and new features in the same app (impractical), 3. separate apps (bundle ids) that discard all ledger history and that you should bring somehow in front of your (existing) users, which is complex.

You can still do it outside of the App Store on Mac, but that excludes your app from the most popular option. Your choice is thus being visible with a broken business model, or invisible with a sound one.

I’d go as far as saying that Mac software innovation has mostly stopped because of the introduction of the Mac App Store.

@Michael Is that some kind of recent change? I recall downloading a modern (.app type) Safari extension from GitHub not too long ago and it worked fine (on Mojave)

"Clean Links for Google"

@Mike I’m not sure. I was basing that on this tweet and page, which say that it only works via the Mac App Store. However, I have since found this page and a 2019 WWDC session saying that you can also notarize and distribute yourself.

Safari app extensions, which were introduced in 2016, can be distributed outside the Mac App Store via Developer ID. However, there have been some bugs with this caused by Gatekeeper Path Randomization (AKA App Translocation).

Safari web extensions, which were introduced at WWDC 2020, can only be distributed in the Mac App Store.

What's the difference? Mainly compatibility with Chrome and Firefox extensions. Safari app extensions are more of an Apple-specific API, whereas Safari web extensions use the cross-platform API.

@Jeff Thanks for explaining!

@Rse "You can still do it outside of the App Store on Mac, but that excludes your app from the most popular option."

Is the Mac App Store really the most popular option today?

It used to be that the sales on the Mac App Store for some categories were so small that an application could be #1 with a hundred sales a week.

It used to be that some companies which stopped distributing on the Mac App Store (for whatever reason) reported not seeing a loss of sales.

Maybe this has changed. So any link to reports is welcome.

"Your choice is thus being visible with a broken business model, or invisible with a sound one."

Most apps are invisible on the Mac App Store IMHO. Only the top 12 (first 6 free and paid) apps of each category do have a real visibility.

>Most apps are invisible on the Mac App Store IMHO

Yeah, I think one of the major failures of both App Stores is that they are terrible at surfacing worthwhile apps, and highly susceptible to manipulation, which essentially has the outcome that the most dishonest developers are also the most successful.

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