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Solving Software Purchases the iTunes Way

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softwareThere’s no debate that the iTunes Store has been a tremendous success. It’s rapidly rising through the charts of music retail outlets, recently passing up Much of the credit can be given to the wide array of offerings available, to be sure, but I believe the critical elements behind why iTunes is winning are its simplicity, its uncomplicated interface, and rapid, accurate downloads. When contrasted with either the brick and mortar experience, or the P2P experience, iTunes wins.

Earlier today, I was thinking of how Apple could take a further leap toward making iTunes more than just media – but instead, something akin to an e-commerce engine. As I already have my credit card detail in iTunes, and Apple has clearly invested in a top-notch content delivery system, why not make an iTunes-like interface for other downloadable data, such as shareware or full-rate software applications?

The Current Model

Today’s software downloading experience, to me, is hit or miss. VersionTracker and MacUpdate do a great job in presenting software titles, version numbers and categories, but the descriptions are typically one liners, consisting of the date it was updated, the size of the file, and the author-submitted description. But if I’m searching for a new shareware game or productivity application, I won’t get an experience of how good it is until I’ve downloaded the file, expanded it, and run it from my computer. And for developers, the sell-through percentages for shareware can’t be all that high.

The Promise of Change

But if software authors were to offer their programs through an application like iTunes, the benefits would be immediate. Instead of customers blindly downloading, you could show 30-second demos, just like Apple does with music videos, TV shows and films today. Instead of one-line descriptions, the developer could describe their offering with full paragraphs, explaining the benefits, and happy users could add reviews. And leveraging the iTunes infrastructure, one-click payments and rapid downloads would be a piece of cake.

In this model, the iTunes Store for Software could soon become the #1 destination for new software downloads and purchases. While it would be some time yet before you could expect to download new Microsoft Office or Adobe applications through this store, it could be the very best venue for the small to mid-size software developer today yearning for exposure. The only question is, does Apple want to further extend their business model?

24 Responses to “Solving Software Purchases the iTunes Way”

  1. azzamallow

    hmmm, in seems the everyone wants everything to go through itunes these days :P It’s becoming the gateway to all things good it seems.

    I like the idea, not through itunes. Conceptually it does not make sense to put it in there. Maybe a dedicated “applications” application, which would manage all installations and allow you to download new ones? even update existing software? that would make more sense to me. Sharing your itunes login would make sense.

    my 2 cents….

  2. @17 Most apps can be downloaded now. I downloaded CS3 Premium (all 4GB) from instead of opting for retail packaging. It downloaded relatively smoothly using a web browser – I’d imagine it could be even better using a better interface that could handle staring/stopping the download and maybe multiple download sources.

  3. @17 I don’t think it’d affect the experience at all. Downloading applications would be initiated from the main interface, but occur in a separate one. Downloading could be paused and resumed, as well as throttled for bandwidth.

    Additionally, you could utilize something like integrated bittorrent for downloading currently popular applications to speed download time. The end-user wouldn’t have to be aware. Configurations options would be in the preferences alongside an option to disregard bittorrent downloading entirely (though not set by default!)

  4. Matt Radel

    I think this could work for smaller (and cheaper) apps that are comparable to a song in filesize. But if you got the big fish in there, it’d kill the experience. Imagine downloading CS3 that way…

  5. would you pay full price for half a sandwhich?
    would you buy a ford for the price of a porche?

    then why pay full price for half quality music?

    what happens if you buy something other than an ipod? either your music is no good anymore or you have to re encode already compressed music, exponentially compressing it and making the quality horrible.

    I say no thanks to that.

  6. gspence

    As nice of a pipe dream as it is in my opinion it would never happen. Apple Inc. is not interested in the iTunes Store being just for mac users. It connects with PC and Mac users worldwide. So unless access to it were only bundled with the Mac iTunes download then I think it is way beyond the scope of the Apple iTunes Store business model. The regular cross-platform iTunes store is not about downloads per se as it is about delivering multimedia for iPod, iPhone and PC or Mac Users worldwide.

  7. I speculate Apple may already be working on this, or something like it, for third-party iPhone apps. Since Apple wants iTunes to be the management hub for the iPhone, they have to devise a way to manage iPhone apps in an intuitive, secure way. Of course, I’m assuming Apple is working on an actual SDK for the iPhone…

  8. I really like this idea too… I wish there was a really good way to search for and download software for the Mac. Version Tracker is okay, but it’s not simple and easy enough to use for most people to be comfortable using.

    If iTunes doesn’t come up with something, I could see a third party software vendor coming up with something…

  9. Marcel

    It’s a good idea which is already implemented and is working quite well through Valve’s own Steam system.

    You already have Steam to play games like CounterStrike and some such.
    It makes sense that they propose price proposal and free weed ends trials.

    What you’re suggesting is a Steam like offer for Software.

  10. DRM in Applications is an idea I’ve been considering for the past few months now.

    As any independent software developer can tell you, piracy is one of the biggest problems facing them. Especially with readily avaliable serial databases like SerialBox

    Now there are a few software companies out there that do exceptionally well at combating piracy of their products. A few that come to mind would be Karelia and Spiderweb Software.

    Specifically, Spiderweb Software uses a code unique to that individual machine as part of the registration process. While this works wonderfully, it can cause a backlog in support issues if they move to a new computer.

    My solution is to use that unique machine code and imbed it inside the registered application. When they move the program to a new computer, that machine’s code is also imbeded inside the program, as well as an online database. However there would be a set limit to the number of machines that registration is capable of working with.

    By working with the online database, a newly downloaded copy of the software can determine which computers are allowable with that registration code.

    I’ve yet to impliment it, but I think it’d work pretty well. If I get the chance, I will try it in the future.

  11. This is clearly more likely to be a dream than something I expect an imminent press release on… but worth thinking about as far as future product extensions could go…

    @3: I think if Apple would be losing the price war in Europe, you can always shop elsewhere. Posting a 60% markup based on territory doesn’t seem to make much sense.

    @4: Brian, you’ve hit on some interesting notes. For an independent (Non-Apple) company to pull this off would be extremely difficult, unless you think a VersionTracker or MacUpdate could leverage their database and make an app to encase it… also, I think point upgrades could be managed within the “New iTunes” as Apple’s Software Update works…

    @5: I thought about the download management. Easiest way to go would be to have a target “Downloaded Apps” folder, but I hadn’t considered “Uninstall” or “Redownload”. I assume Apple could put DRM on the apps so they aren’t copied from computer to computer as they do with iTunes songs today…

  12. Well really that wouldn’t be hard to manage. Since it would already be keeping track of programs for updating purposes, uninstalling would be a cinch with an integrated AppZapper-type function. Keeping a list of purchased applications is easy too, just keep them in a list. And to move above iTunes…allow them to instantly restore the applications if they are lost!

    And to extend the idea a little further, allow them to download demo versions of the software with an x-days remaining view right inside the client that would allow you to purchase and immediately register the application. To even expand on that, develop a framework for developers that would allow the client to register applications immediately after they’ve been downloaded to remove that hassle from the user.

    Heh well more to ponder on!

  13. Interesting idea, I think it works for the ease of purchase part, but here’s the additional wrinkle – iTunes is also great for managing the media files that are downloaded. How do you think the applications you buy would work in that metaphor? What would be really slick is if in iTunes you saw a list of the programs you bought and were able to manage the uninstallation with one click :)

  14. Now do you think that this business model could be pulled off by an independent developer? Offer a downloadable client that acts both to preview and purchase the software as well as download it and provide updates via something similar to Sparkle? Would independent developers use it? Would big-time developers use it?

    Now concerning the application itself, should it offer an alternate means of payment for applications beyond itself? As I would assume that when applications are purchased you would recieve a small percentage of the sale. Now if alternate payment methods are avaliable, how would you get your income?

    Furthermore, would you have other charges? Would there be a charge for developers to add their applications to your avaliable list? If you did, many developers will ignore you, if you don’t will you be able to maintain your client’s upkeep costs? What other charges would you apply?

    This was pretty much a blog-worthy post in itself, but it’s something to think over!

  15. David Macdonald

    I think this would be a terrible idea. Currently iTunes songs in the UK cost 60 percent more than they do in the US. I can currently buy US software from US sites at pretty much the same price as the software costs in the US. If Apple got into the market they would probably apply the same price model to software that they do to their music and any software sold through Apple in the UK would be 60 percent more expensive.

  16. I like this idea as well… but I wonder what criteria would have to be met in order for Apple to offer a program. Are they going to limit it to the big players, or only “quality” applications? Also, this would take a lot of work on the part of Apple to constantly deal with the influx of revisions, etc. So how much is Apple’s cut going to be for all that work? 10%? 20%? That starts to cut into the bottom line of the Mac’s great small developers.

    I definitely love the idea, but unfortunately I think it’s going to remain a dream.

  17. This is a very interesting idea .. and I agree with you. Maybe some of them could include quick video ‘snippets’ showing the software in action to show how they differ from their competitors as well. I have been toying with the idea of downloading/purchasing a good personal finance software but not sure what to get. Everyone has their preferences but a video snippet would help me immensely … especially if I could via them one after the other like listening to songs one after the other.