When Steve Jobs announced the Mac App Store yesterday, my first feeling wasn’t excitement, but rather worry. My concern is that the Mac App Store will, perhaps in two or three years, become the only effective channel through which Mac developers can sell their apps.


When Steve Jobs announced the Mac App Store yesterday, my first feeling wasn’t excitement, but rather worry. My concern is that the Mac App Store will, perhaps in two or three years, become the only effective channel through which Mac developers can sell their apps.

The Best Place to Get Apps…

Jobs mentioned in yesterday’s announcement that the Mac App Store won’t be the only place to buy apps but that he “hopes it will be the best.” I’m sure it will be the best. Apple is providing a gorgeous storefront from which to browse and purchase apps, and it’ll ship with every new Mac once OS X Lion is introduced.

The whole process, from searching, to purchasing and downloading, to launching and later updating, will just work, like it does with Steam. Apps won’t merely be enhanced dashboard widgets, they’ll be full-blown desktop programs. The entire iLife and iWork suite were already up there during the demo.

The store will be an immense success, and Jobs will certainly be showing off the stats at one of next year’s Apple events. With that success will also come a shift in the app distribution landscape and a shift in the mindset of users. The Mac App Store — while it won’t be the only source to downloads apps — will most likely eclipse all others.

… Becomes the Only Place

Here’s my worry: Two or three years down the line, Jobs will say, “The Mac App Store has been a massive success. It has revolutionized app distribution for developers and app purchasing for users. The best thing though is that we’ve seen the quality of apps for the Mac go through the roof. Apps for the Mac App Store look better, work better and feel better. And it’s good business for the developers too.”

Jobs would then go on to explain that on the new range of Macs and MacBooks, the App Store will be the location from which to download apps. The only location. The only escape will be upgrading to Apple’s Pro computers, which won’t require apps to be installed through the App Store.

From Apple’s point of view, this wouldn’t stifle development, as the Mac App Store would be a proven success (so why distribute on your own?) and, if you’re developing something for that niche Pro audience, you can still reach them with or without the Mac App Store.

Earlier this year, Cory Doctorow wrote an article over at Boing Boing titled,”Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t either).” I bought an iPad, and I dig my iPad. However, Cory’s article came to mind during yesterday’s announcement.

Software Upgrades Only

Cory talks about “infantalizing hardware.” With the iPad, you can’t physically open it. The idea is that you don’t improve your device by hacking or tweaking, but rather by purchasing. Purchase an app, and you improve your device.

Think about the new Macbook Air: a sealed box. Purchase apps from the Mac App Store and improve it. It’s not that great a leap to imagine the Mac App Store being the only channel through which you can purchase apps for all future Apple notebooks, too, which will likely be similarly closed.

The Gatekeeper Dilemma

Then there’s the “Wal-Martization of the software channel” as Cory puts it. I’ll skip over the whole DRM issue, and I’ll quote Cory on the thing that concerns me most, “… as a copyright holder and creator, I don’t want a single, Wal-Mart-like channel that controls access to my audience and dictates what is and is not acceptable for me to create.”

I am a creator. I am a copyright holder. And I don’t want to see a future where I only have one option for distribution on a platform that was previously open. A future where I would have to seek approval from a central authority before my creations can be released.

For the record, I’ve released apps on iOS. I’ve been through Apple’s approval process before. That’s the nature of iOS though. It’s always been like that, and I’ve never known any different for that platform. OS X is different though, I can create anything I like and release through whatever channels I like. I don’t want to see that change.

If that does change, would we see amazing creative tools like Pure Data or Ableton Live anymore? I think we still would, but there’s a caveat. These apps would have to compromise on their features or functionality in order to gain Apple approval. It’s easy to see how this could stifle innovation.

But then, none of this has happened yet, and indeed it may never happen. Especially if developers make sure that Apple knows this isn’t what we want.

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  1. The only answer… Windows

      1. Agreed, I would definitely go to linux before Windows, but I love Mac OS X and probably won’t ever want to switch.

    1. Desktop OS are becoming irrelevant. As more apps move to the web, soon enough your “OS” is your browser. It matters little if you’re using Mac, Windows or Linux when all you need is always available in all of them.

      So the answer to the Mac App Store is not an OS. But it’s the open web stores like the Mozilla Web Store platform and the Google Chrome Web Store.

      Those will be the true competitors to the Mac store. And as a developer myself, it looks much more tempting to develop for a platform that can reach everyone, than for a platform that can only reach a few.

      Desktop stores like the Mac or Ubuntu stores does have advantages. But the line between desktop and web apps is getting thinner each year. And thanks to html5, will disappear in a few years.

      1. I agree. Except for the Google Chrome web store. Open it is until there is no need to be. The best solution is for competition to take place. Windows is not the answer nether is Ubuntu or google. Unless they all continue to offer alternatives to each other. Windows is an excellent example. If Microsoft had provided what everyone needed and wanted there would be no apple, or Linux. Why do techs always want only one to win?

  2. That’s a nice scary Halloween story, but completely implausible. One of the highlights of OSX is that apps are so easy to install — just drag an app (which in reality is “.app” folder) to your hard drive. That’s it. How is Apple going to stop you from copying a file to your hard drive?

    1. Gruber has some interesting thoughts on how “easy” installing apps on OS X is: http://daringfireball.net/2009/09/how_should_mac_apps_be_distributed

      It can be confusing for new users.

  3. No – stay away from the windows: if the sky is falling, like Olly says, then it’s just not safe! Duck and cover!

    1. It’s not that I’m claiming that this is happening, it’s more that I’d like to publicly note that a closed Mac app eco-system is both possible and plausible.

      I think we only stand to benefit from acknowledging the notion of a closed eco-system and then discussing.

      1. I don’t think Apple would have to close off other avenues of installing apps. Perception will likely be that this is the easiest and safest way to get apps, which won’t be false in itself but those who do try and survive outside the appstore for whatever reason will have a lot of difficulty.

      2. Good article by the way.

  4. Jamie Kirkpatrick Thursday, October 21, 2010

    Good insight, well summed up….you are thinking the same thing as probably the rest of the OS X developer / power user community I reckon: there are some pretty scary possibilities….

    Here’s hoping Apple has some sense of loyalty to those of us who have been with the Mac through thick and thing and none of this comes to pass.

  5. Why is no one talking about the elephant in the room? Jobs and Apple are printing money by taking 30% of iOS developers’ sales. And now they are going to do the same thing on Mac OS. And developers just smile and say, “Thanks, Steve.”

    Most industries *pay* to put your hard work and content on their platform. At Apple, you pay them. It’s backwards.

    It’s a great racket. I don’t blame Apple for trying to do it or accomplishing it–I am astounded so many fell for it.

    Snap out of it already!

    1. 30% is actually not that bad considering what the developers get in return (exposure to a receptive audience and an endorsement from Apple that their software is good-to-go). It’s a lot better than the 70% cut that Amazon takes for all Kindle subscriptions.

    2. Nopes — the exposure that apps will gain via the app store is enormous. It more than compensates the 30% they will loose in distribution. For example, I am a new Mac user, and I have hardly downloaded any third party programs apart from the major ones, because I simply dont know about them! Listing on an app store will get the developers several times increase in sales, as long as the app is good, and it gets good reviews by users.

      Secondly, running app stores has a cost to Apple — they have to maintain the SDK (in this case, DRM for the apps, packaging code, installs/updates/etc), servers, storefront like top apps, staff favorites, noteworthy, etc, and developer front (all documentation, portals to submit apps), and finally review committed, which itself is very expensive. In the end, Apple does not make money off of this — their itunes music store and iphone/ipad app store actually run at barely break even: they dont profit from them, thats what they declare in earnings reports.

      1. Spot-on, Gaurang. In addition to the exposure, there is a matter of trust–users are far more likely to trust an app that has been through the Apple auditing process. And ironically, Apple could probably make a little more money if they just let any old app get through.

        And just to add one more counter to Michael’s point–I used to work at Download.com and we did indeed make developers pay to list their software on our site. AND we audited submissions based on the same basic criteria Apple uses. And developers complained. But they still listed with us because they (the shareware industry) were making $4 billion a year through our site.

  6. Here’s an interesting thought, and one I’ve been chewing on since the announcement. Apple builds their platform however they see fit, right? They are under no obligation to open it up to third party developers, but they do because it is mutually beneficial to everyone. If you’ve built your software business, as I have, on Apple’s platform, you have no choice but to assume that Apple is going to continue to be benevolent, and to play by their rules.

    Does it suck? Yes. Will I be first in line to submit my app to the Mac App Store? Yes.

    The point is that Macs are selling like hotcakes, 50% of people buying them have never bought a Mac before, and new users coming over from iOS will never look anywhere else but the App Store for new apps. Apple is changing the rules, and it’s going to be a long, hard adjustment period. I think Apple knows that. We are all riding on Steve’s coattails, and we are all perfectly free to take our business elsewhere if the environment becomes unsuitable. But, with this many new users, it seems reasonable to bend a bit for the App Store, rather than try to port to windows, linux, or the web.

  7. The computer industry is still in it’s infancy. How many other tech gadgets at do you crack open to upgrade? TV’s, Radio’s, Toasters, Fridges, Cars (a few does, ok)?

    The way that development is going I see no need to crack open my iPad. 2-3 years down the line I’ll get a new one, bigger, faster, yada yada. The programs and data will follow.

    Get over it…


    1. I totally agree. People have enough complications in their life without having to be IT wizards and getting under the hood of the PC, this should be about simplicity not making so the odd nerd can go tinkering with his hardware, you want the technical challenge, move to Windows. They’ll keep you busy for years to come. Apple is all about moving people away from that so you actually use your computer rather than spend all day trying to fix.

  8. Isn’t Microsoft working on the same thing for Windows 8 called Microsoft Marketplace that they’re starting back up?


  9. Michael Koppelman Thursday, October 21, 2010

    Wow, I had totally the opposite reaction. The Mac platform just got a million times more viable for most developers because the challenges of getting a product to retail are gone. All those new iPhone shops are going to be porting to the desktop and integrating mobile+desktop and it’s going to be an awesome new Golden Age of development on the Macintosh.

  10. This article is a lot of foolishness.

    1. Agreed. A hysterical rant.

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