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Summary:

Given the runaway success of the App Store (if you haven’t heard, just pick up any newspaper, provided you can find one still being printed), I’ve began to give some thought to the feasibility of a Mac App Store. Does it make sense? Could Apple pull it off? What would it mean for developers and for users?

Mac App Store

Given the runaway success of the App Store (if you haven’t heard, just pick up any newspaper, provided you can find one still being printed), I’ve begun to give some thought to the feasibility of a Mac App Store. Does it make sense? Could Apple pull it off? What would it mean for developers and for users?

The introduction of the iTunes Music Store (now simply called the iTunes Store) brought about an entirely new paradigm for providing digital content. There was new ground for Apple to break, and to test the waters, it began with music, before eventually adding support for audiobooks, podcasts, television shows, movies, and movie rentals.

Initially aimed at giving users more choice by allowing them to pay for the specific content they desired (a song vs. the entire CD, or a TV episode instead of an entire season), many more benefits to this new model quickly became apparent — for example, user reviews to highlight the best content, trends to see what others are buying, environmental benefits by reducing physical distribution, and simplicity for producers to get their content quickly before the public. Now with the App Store, developers are once again doing the same thing for the iPhone and iPod touch.

But would this same concept work for big-name applications like Creative Suite 4 or Microsoft Office? In short, yes.

While Apple’s profit margin for app developers might be a little high for companies like Adobe or Microsoft, it hasn’t stopped such companies from exploring their own methods of digital distribution. Creative Suite 4 is available from Adobe’s web site as a trial (which a user can then buy the license and upgrade) or as a full version that can be downloaded once purchased from its online store. Microsoft offers the same solution for Office 2008 on its web site as well.

Objections & Rebuttals

The biggest argument against digital distribution of any kind (software, movies, music) is the lack of physical media. In some cases, I support this, but the App Store has shown us that not dealing with physical media is a lot more convenient. (Just how easy is it to try a new app on your iPhone and delete it if you don’t want it?)

Another common objection you hear is that with physical media, you always have a nice backup copy in case you need it. (One could argue the flip side that by only having physical media, you really have no backup copy if your original disc becomes scratched or damaged.) Apple has once again snuck a hidden gem in the App Store with its ability to re-download content at any time after your initial purchase. Bearing this in mind, now how simple is it to install an application onto multiple Macs, assuming you have the appropriate license? Simply login to iTunes and re-download the application again.

Others like to cite bandwidth as a reason against this distribution method. Granted, broadband is not common in all parts of the world, but this is certainly not an “all or none” argument — simply a direction we’re progressing towards. Furthermore, the size of the average application is usually far smaller than a music album, HD TV show, or feature film.

Yet another aspect to consider is that Apple has already provided one online destination for applications and that is its Downloads section of Apple.com. Unfortunately, this option has many setbacks, including lack of powerful searching options, lack of user reviews, and inability to track purchases to name a few. Almost two years ago, however, Apple also utilized this approach to showcase its collection of web apps for the iPhone, before giving way to a full-fledged App Store inside of iTunes. The web apps are still browsable via Apple’s web site, but with the introduction of native apps, web apps just don’t get the love they once did. With its seamless integration with your iTunes account for billing, reviews, and user recommendations, iTunes would be a more ideal solution for delivering applications and updates instead of a web site.

Additional Benefits

There are many additional benefits for developers and consumers in a potential Mac App Store. With the introduction of a Mac App Store, smaller developers will have the potential to reach greater audiences. One of the best things about using a Mac are all of those neat little applications you always see popping up on the net. With a Mac App Store, now these developers can share the same space as big-name guys like Adobe and Microsoft, without needing an advertising budget as big as theirs.

Looking at how intelligently iTunes can view my past purchases and offer “deals” to complete albums or upgrade to iTunes Plus, and even how the App Store delivers app updates to consumers, Apple could finally allow developers to take advantage of its Software Update app built into OS X. (There are already some popular third-party apps that do this, and one thing Apple loves to do best is to take what’s “popular” and make it its own).

Though Apple has faced a lot of criticism for its policies of approving and rejecting apps from the App Store, such a system would also likely be in place for a Mac specific version. However, as this would not be the only method of distributing applications for the Mac, Apple’s approval policies shouldn’t be seen as a detriment to this idea, especially as Apple continues to refine and improve its approval process.

Essentially, the technology is already in place. Apple has a distribution method (App Store & iTunes), and most developers are already offering downloads via their own sites. If, and when, Apple introduces a Mac App Store, developers will be able to reach entirely new audiences and easier distribution than they currently enjoy.

  1. Interesting idea. Do you think this changes if people are charged to re download the App like the App store is rumored to do…and the Music portion already does?

    What might be cool which you hinted it, is a “genius” type mode of “People who bought this also bought”….

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  2. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want my computer to become like an iPhone. I like the ability to install anything I want to install, whenever I want to. I don’t have to ask Apple’s permission. The ability of Apple to decide what goes onto a computer is such a huge detriment to the freedom that computers allow.

    For the same reasons we don’t let our government censor our press, we don’t let our computer companies decide how we use our computers.

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  3. This is quite an interesting idea, and I would like to see this implemented.

    As to the point about censorship that Nick Savage brings up, people have jailbroken their iphones. Why not their macs? Besides, with each new app to the store is one less app Apple can frown at you for. Lets say you download an app from the app store for your iphone, and your iphone crashes. Apple approved it, so they have to fix your phone. Lets say you jailbroke it, and downloaded an app from the web. They don’t have to do anything for you.

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  4. Daniel Grace Friday, June 5, 2009

    @ Nick Savage

    I agree that it would be horrible if Apple could restrict non-approved apps like they do on the iPhone. That’s a separate issue than their ability to run an App Store, however.

    My biggest reason (as a developer) to go through an app store for a computer wasn’t even mentioned in this article — billing. If Apple handled the billing and gave me lump sums (as they do on the iPhone) I’d be all over it. Well… as long as they can quell the yells about late or flat missing payments…

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  5. I think it makes good sense… as long as they don’t start restricting people. I’d like to see less packaging out there. Though personally, I prefer to have a tangible box whenever I spend over $200. When I bought CS3 Web Premium, it came with a nice little guide too, which I appreciated because it helped me get started.

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  6. [...] Theories On a Mac App Store Written on June 05, 2009 by Chris Ryan and 2 people have commented [...]

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  7. Absolutely makes sense and something I’ve wondered since I fell in love with the App Store. I’m so sick of having to track down updates for my apps. Sparkle works for apps you use frequently, not for others. I was chalking this up to a dream, but when I saw the banners I began to wonder…could a Mac app store be in the cards. All that said, being able to install outside of this App Store is vital. But I think it also is a must. Adobe or MS will likely not pull into such a Mac App Store.

    But it would be a gret opportunity for Pixelmator and other smaller devs to find a larger audience, which is really great for Apple, too. If you don’t depend on big third-party players to support you, you are more immune from their whims.

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  8. @Chris
    I was with you when I purchased CS4 (desiring a retail box), however since it had just come out, it was going to be 2-3 weeks lead time to ship it to me (perhaps because it was the educational version). I tried to convert this to a download option, but Adobe wasn’t able to offer much help. I suppose the argument is similar to those who prefer standard DVDs over digital downloads, yet more and more people are, out of convenience, going for digital downloads (even though DVDs contain special features, etc. etc.). The whole dynamic of how we do business and what we look for is changing. With Apple offering so many getting started videos on their website, if Adobe were to do the same (and to an extent, they do with Adobe TV), it’s great to have those resources there at my fingertips, and not cluttering up my office shelves. But that’s just personal preference. :-)

    The beauty of this from a developers standpoint is it could easily push more impulse buying. Of course, Apple would need to work out how to offer demos or other information (though that could simply be a link to a .dmg file hosted at the developer’s site) but I think there’s a lot of exposure for developers in a situation like this. There are so many great apps out there, like Coda and Pixelmator, but we don’t hear about them unless it’s word of mouth or they make some “Top 10″ list somewhere, or they’re apart of a MacHeist bundle.

    Ultimately, I think we’ll see Apple exploring this path. They’re already laying the groundwork.

    @NickSavage I don’t think Apple would tell you if an app isn’t on their App Store, you wouldn’t be able to install it. Just like you can put any music you own into iTunes, whether you purchased it from iTunes or not. I think there is a lot more benefit to customers by offering them a central place to see the best of what’s available.

    @DanielGrace Sorry about not mentioning the billing aspect. Completely slipped my mind, but another excellent point. Apple has built so much simplicity into the purchase process of iTunes and they handle returns/redownloads when things get messed up. This is a great boon for developers who want to go this route and I completely agree with you here.

    @tej116 I also agree with your thoughts on Apple “approving” the apps for inclusion in the App Store. It does put more responsibility on Apple’s part, but I actually don’t think that’s something they’d shy away from. The developer community is already so “in love” with Apple and make such great quality apps anyway. Developers already follow Apple’s human interface guidelines to create “lickable” apps that are functionally similar, despite who develops them. (How many apps do you use that has an “Inspector”?) Ultimately, a solution such is this would provide a better experience for customers and that’s one of Apple’s core competencies anyway.

    I’m glad you guys are having fun with this discussion! Thanks for the feedback and follow up!

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  9. Daniel Kvasnička jr. Saturday, June 6, 2009

    I like the idea — but only if it really wasn’t the only way. And if it didn’t use iTunes. Even now iTunes is a whale… putting another feature in it, this time completely unrelated to the other things it does (well, yeah, it’s an App Store like the one for the iPhone, but that’s all), would be sad IMHO.

    This thing should _definetly_ have it’s own app. Maybe merged with the Software Update.

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  10. Daniel Kvasnička jr. Saturday, June 6, 2009

    @Chad: “Sparkle works for apps you use frequently, not for others.” — well, yeah, that’s the point of it. Why should I want to download updates for apps I’m not using?

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