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.
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.