Blog Post

A Developer’s Take on the New Mac App Store

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

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.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

42 Responses to “A Developer’s Take on the New Mac App Store”

  1. Wow, that’s almost exactly what I was thinking. I love the concept of the App Store for the simplicity, but I really am worried that it will become the exclusive way to distribute software.

    It’s bad enough that being an “official” Apple developer requires you to pay a license fee even if you’re only building free apps that don’t earn you a cent.

    And I can definitely see Microsoft following in Apple’s footsteps the way they did with Windows Phone 7.

  2. I think people that want to avoid the app store will always have another method. Closing the system on the average desktop computer is not practical when dealing with, for example, games – where a 12 Gb download may not be practical for a large number of users. This problem simply does not exist for the mobile devices.

    Similarly steam is mentioned; Valve and their partners will not abandon their successful DRM platform, and I can’t see Apple sacrificing their gamers in this way. I call paranoia on this one.

  3. kkerekes

    The Mac app acceptance conditions mandate no copy-protection in the app. Period.

    So far I haven’t seen any data stating that there is going to be an iOS-style automatic license that is actually enforced by the OS.

    If there isn’t, I suspect there will be problems getting vendors of high-value (high priced) software (Adobe, et al) to put full-function apps in the Mac App Store. There will probably (at least initially) be problems with even some of the more expensive shareware.

    If, however, auto-licensing is built-in (somehow) so that someone can’t usefully put a purchased app on BitTorrent, then the app store may have the interesting side effect of lowering software retail price levels while retaining and/or increasing developer profitability. The small developer, particularly, could concentrate on actual coding, rather than having to spend way too much time doing marketing.

  4. The only way I can see this being revolutionary is if Apple took the approach of developing a application store with associated framework that allowed for cross-platform browsing, download, installation, and execution. If the App store was on OSX and Windows (like iTunes) it could be an interesting development. Linux would probably be a stretch because of the different variations, but who knows… Windows represents 90%+ of consumer computers and Apple doesn’t make a penny off that large market segment. A cross-platform application could allow them to make 30% off of application sales on Windows PCs.

    Read my blog post for more on this:

  5. The day Steve Jobs or anyone else tells me that I will only be able to buy from the app store will be the last day I buy anything from apple. I will not buy from the new App store as it is because I saw Apple’s criteria for Apps and I do not intend to encourage censorship by Apple , Steve Jobs or anyone else

  6. The app is the place my mom will buy software from, but there are programs that people use and need that will never be found in the app store based on the restrictions it has (MacFuse, Little Snitch and others) that I don’t think we have to worry about people not ever finding something that is not in the app store. What I am curious about is if you can both distribute an app yourself and have it in the app store?

  7. Hamranhansenhansen

    You missed the point entirely. The terrible dystopian future you describe is actually a tremendous improvement over what we have today, which is CD/DVD, serial numbers, cracked serial numbers, various authenticators, multiple installation methods, and many, many users who do not even use native apps because they don’t know how to find them, how to audit them, or how to install them. Mozilla did a study and found a ton of their Firefox for Mac users were running the f**king thing off the disk image! What are you proposing? That we stick with CD/DVD? That we stick with manual installs? That we have a course at the Apple Store that teaches consumers how to install apps the 2009 way because developers are afraid of progress?

    Apple will not have to announce that Mac App Store is the only place to get apps. It will almost certainly become that because 1) that’s what users want, and 2) that’s what developers want. Is it going to be perfect? No. But it will be much better than what we have today. What we have today is horribly, horribly broken.

    The users want Mac App Store because they want 1-click automatic installs from a trusted source, they want their apps to just work, they want automatic updates, they want zero I-T work, they want their native apps to be available on all of their Macs. Me, I’m already done with everything other than Mac App Store. I won’t buy another Mac app or even a major update for my current apps until they are in Mac App Store. I’m tired of updating apps from 9.0.1 to 9.0.2 manually. I’m tired of typing serial numbers into little boxes. I’m tired of having CD/DVD all around, each with a slightly different installation method. I’m already still using Photoshop and Illustrator CS3 because Adobe’s installers are so bad I skipped CS4 and stayed with the devil I know. I just didn’t want to do the I-T work for CS4. The $398 to upgrade was not an issue at all. So I’ll upgrade to CS5 or CS6 when I can buy those upgrades in Mac App Store with 1-click and the apps will come as single icons that will sync to both my Macs with no crapware attached.

    The thing is, what is good for users is good for developers, because it will enable them to have exponentially more users, whether their motivation is just to have users, as in a free app, or whether their motivation is to make money with a paid app. I have many, many friends who have 50 3rd party apps on their iPhones and zero 3rd party apps on their Macs. They use what comes with the Mac because they don’t know how to install 3rd party software and they’re not willing to learn. There is a huge untapped market of users for native apps. So there are apps that have 10,000 users right now that will have 1 million users soon because of Mac App Store.

    Look, the demo of Mac App Store where the user clicked “INSTALL” and Pages jumped down into the dock simply cannot be argued with. Game over. All these other installation methods are DONE.

    If you are a developer of a Mac app you have only 2 choices:

    1) get your app into Mac App Store and start installing it with 1-click to user’s machines from Apple’s servers, or

    2) port your app to HTML5 and start installing it with 1-click to user’s machines from your own servers.

    In other words: server-based 1-click installs with automatic updates are here and they are here to stay and everything else is going away. Not because Apple says so, but because that’s what users require and demand.

    The irony of a developer complaining in 2010 that an “iTunes Music Store for Apps” is no fair is hilarious! I’m a music producer, and 10 years ago software developers were telling us “stop whining, you can’t stop progress!” What goes around has come back around. These days I make iTunes LP, a music album done in software. If music producers can learn to make software then software developers can learn to give up the CD you guys stole from us in the first place. If our work had to become hacker-friendly then it’s just find that your work has to become consumer-friendly.

    So, no, I have no sympathy for software developers who fear change.

  8. I don’t this could happen because the “pc” market is not the “mobile” market. Apple is not the #1 in the computer market so he needs to stay competitive. I think the Mac App Store will be an extra market channel.

  9. For small developers, the app store should be great primarily as it will ease a common concern I have with websites. I don’t want to hand over my credit card info to a random website. I don’t know who is behind the website and how well the website will protect my information. What if the website goes bust and put their customer info on Ebay? The security concern has stopped me from paying for software (mostly shareware). With the app store, I trust Apple as the market and this will lead me to pay for more software.

  10. LOL I pitched the app store concept to Jobs in, I think, 1999. He was very much Not Interested then. How times change. My thinking was that people would enjoy a central location that managed their Mac software for them – kept them updated, stored their licenses, etc., and also included plans for leasing software. Like leasing a car, you pay as you go and can upgrade regularly to the latest and greatest version. Anyway, he seemed to think my idea was really absurd. I wonder if software leasing is around the corner?

  11. As an end user rather than a developer, I love the fact there will be an app store. I get great comfort from the fact I know where the software has come from, that it’s been pre-tested and it is totally trustworthy. The app store is clean and it’s perfect as a portal to the world of developers.

    When I download from the app store I will know where the software is coming from, that it will install. It’s good and it should make competition better. In my own opinion.

  12. Olly,
    Great article and thoughts. I published an article right after the keynote with a slightly different take. In my mind, the new Mac App Store represents what Steve Jobs said just two days before which is that of “Integrated vs. Fragmented”. See, software right now is fairly fragmented, and by that I mean it is in a state right now where you have one version on your Mac, another version on your iPad (or iPhone). It’s fragmented. With apps that can live on all the devices and share data, we get closer to integrated – and that is pretty darn nice from a productivity standpoint!

  13. That is one side of the story – what about open source? How iOs kicked the open source community in the balls, that will come to the mac store too. That was the last blow that made me quit mac for good…

    There seems to be a real challenge to keep the open source side of reality going. If you can’t open it you can’t own it, that is for hardware and software. It quite sad to see how closed apple is going – sure it might benefit the market – but how restrictive is it on the general public creativity!

    • That’s ok Geoffrey, the only loser in you abandoning Mac is yourself. Move to Windows. If Open source is the future then good old competition will prove that. Of everyone agrees, people will vote with their feet and walk. For everyone developer or nerd that wants open source to tinker or even in fairness to be more creative, there are a million users who just want simplicity and reliability. If open source is so good and can create better products on other platforms then users will switch.

    • That’s ok Geoffrey, the only loser is you abandoning Mac is yourself. Move to Windows. If Open source is the future then good old competition will prove that. Of everyone agrees, people will vote with their feet and walk. For everyone developer or nerd that wants open source to tinker or even in fairness to be more creative, there are a million users who just want simplicity and reliability. If open source is so good and can create better products on other platforms then users will switch.

  14. Okay Olly, you need to refill your anti-paranoia prescription….even setting aside all the anti-trust issues (what you foresee Apple doing is totally illegal!), you’re missing the big picture point…

    The whole world is going digital /wireless…looks at the stats on hard copy subscriptions and books… that’s the future – it’s not that there won’t be anywhere else to sell your software, it’s that the days of consumers needing to “touch and feel” the box are just about over.. Apple is merely setting up the software store of the future, now… I’m sure there will be others out there, but it’s a smart business move to get your version of the future up and running first… (one need only to look at the current Apple App Store to see the wisdom of that move – the app
    store added 1 BILLION to apple’s recent numbers and has been a huge hardware sales driver)…

    I’m sure you’ll be able to sell your software elsewhere, but I bet that your sales will be huge within the App Store environment compared to anywhere else you decide to make your software available. Where else will you pick up the “browser” buys and impulse buys …two very very powerful sales drivers that don’t really exist on your own we site or even within the brick and mortar retail environment today…

    [I can’t believe all these developers who complain about apple’s 30% share of revenues – it you sold through a brick and mortar operation, you’d be giving up 50% on your wholesale sale and still have to do your own marketing and promotion, which would eat into you net to the tune o at let 15%…. Apple pretty much picks up the marketing on their App Store and is giving you a higher wholesale price than you could get elsewhere…]

  15. 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.

  16. 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…


    • 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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 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.

  19. Jamie Kirkpatrick

    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.

    • 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.

      • Cousin Dan

        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.

  20. 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?

    • VIBrunazo

      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.

      • 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?