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Casting a Critical Eye Over the Mac App Store

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We’re not even a week in, and the Mac App Store (s aapl) is, for the most part, a huge success. I’m not at all surprised the Mac App Store has proven to be so successful so quickly. If anything, I’m surprised it took Apple this long to release it!

But as the excitement wears off, it’s time to take a long, hard look at what the Mac App Store could mean for Mac users — not just now, but in the future, as the iOS-ification of the Mac continues.

First, the Good News

The Mac App Store improves personal computing in three huge areas; software discovery, security and maintenance.

Until now, the way most Mac users discovered new software was by word-of-mouth, labored research — or sheer serendipity. None of those are entirely bad things, but they’re far from the one-stop-shop ideal the Mac App Store represents. What’s more, it’s built right in to the Mac and it’s easy to use.

Security on Mac OS X has never been a headache, but that doesn’t mean Mac users should be careless. There’s no guarantee third-party software won’t do something naughty once it’s installed. With the Mac App Store, everything comes from Apple’s servers, and users can rest easy in the knowledge that it had to pass some sort of quality control before Apple approved it.

Finally, maintenance — a foreign word to most Mac users. Sometimes, updates are relatively painless and happen automatically. Other times, they require visiting websites, downloading and unzipping packages or messing about with disk images. The Mac App Store does away with all of this and replaces it with one-click updates, centrally located.

Inherited Flaws

That’s not to say there aren’t problems. Let’s first remember that the Mac App Store is modelled after the iOS App Store, which means that it inherits a few bad genes:

No Trial Software
Buy or don’t buy — there is no trial software on the App Store. And if you buy something you ultimately don’t like? Well, that’s tough. The money is gone. Better hope you didn’t spend a lot.

Flaky Reviews
iOS App Store reviews are often misleading and, sometimes, make entirely false (and detrimental) claims. Developers don’t have the option of turning off customer reviews (and imagine how suspicious it would appear if they did) but there has to be a better way for Apple to handle the review process.

Bumpy Approval Process
We’ve all heard stories about the painfully lengthy and opaque approval process developers sometimes face getting their apps (or updates) into the Store. Presumably, this will be no different for the Mac App Store, either.


Let’s assume, though, that all of the above aside, the Mac App Store becomes the software repository of choice for developers and end users alike. In this case, it’s necessary to scrutinize the policies and ideologies of the App Store curators — Apple itself.

Foul language, nudity or sexuality, subversive or revolutionary political content — it’s all banned from the App Store, sometimes explicitly covered by the published guidelines, yet always ultimately at Apple’s discretion.

Sure, sure – this is Apple’s store, these are Apple’s policies and if we don’t like them … well, we don’t have to use Apple products, do we? But is that entirely fair? And where does it end?

(Un)Fair Exchange?

There is a difference between responsible curation and outright censorship, and while the former is applauded, the latter is generally considered reprehensible. Yet this is the situation we are in today, both with the iOS and now the Mac App Stores. In my opinion, Apple doesn’t just curate, it censors.

Are the benefits of software discovery, enhanced security and ease-of-use a fair trade for restrictive content policies? When Microsoft (s msft) enjoyed its absolute power in the 1990s, we called it “The Borg” for exerting such dominance over businesses and end-users. Is Apple so different today in the way it regulates the iOS software ecosystem?

This can never happen on the Mac, some will argue. No Mac user is forced to use the Mac App Store. But what happens when a future version of Mac OS X makes the Mac App Store the only way to get software onto a Mac? It seems like a very real possibility, considering how supportive many developers are of the new marketplace.


Believe it or not, I’m no conspiracy theorist and, if I’m really honest, I wouldn’t mind if — in a future version of Mac OS X entirely dependent on the App Store for third-party software — Apple rejected certain titles on the grounds of insufficient quality, stability or power efficiency.

But I worry that what started as the cautious regulation of a novel software distribution platform might one day mutate into something far worse — absolute control of my beloved Mac by a company that has decided I shouldn’t be allowed to make it my own in the same way I once could.

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8 Responses to “Casting a Critical Eye Over the Mac App Store”

  1. I do not and will not patronize the App Store. Why? Because its just one more Indication of Apple’s “father Knows best” attitude. If you buy from Apple, you will buy what Apple wants to sell you and you will install on your iPhone, ipod or iPad what Apple wants to install and nothing else. If you want a matte screen on your iMac tough we know that you can live without it.

    sure their are work arounds for the IOS family, but if you jail break and install unblessed Apps your Warrantee disappears.

    Ive had it with that attitude and if Apple does make what i want, I buy elsewhere

  2. I’m really not so sure that all this talk is being positioned correctly in the debate, firstly apple vs Microsoft control era, when Microsoft dominated the computer industry there was very little alternative unless you were a wiz on computers now there is, the Microsoft apple argument can be undone by Linux and other operating systems, which brings me to my second point, if app,e do decide to take control of THERE platform, and censor it completely, then so be it, you are not tied into it, you simply don’t by into apple products, the same way I can’t by a xbox game and play it on my Wii, frankly I might also leave the apple nest, but then again… I love the iPad and the iPhone experience, I don’t have any issues with the censorship of apps, because I don’t want to but that sort of stuff, if I did then there’s android for that. Has it killed apple and given them negative press, I would suggest idevice sales would suggest otherwise,
    Maybe one day well all be naive as to think big brother isn’t watching every move and trying to control it (wikileaks anyone) until then, there’s an app for that..

  3. It’s 2084, and the world is a grim place where Uncle Steve watches your every click. Maybe Terry Gilliam will make a movie inspired by it, including the memorable line, “What have you done with the motherboard!”

  4. Andrei Timoshenko

    What benefits would Apple reap from restrictive review processes for the App Store?

    Looking at the iOS App Store, all instances of the company being over-restrictive in what it allows onto the App Store have brought it nothing but grief.

    In other words, Apple will go bust before it can become a powerful censor, if it ever chooses to attempt to become one.

  5. Well, another argument is financial. The Mac App Store is ideal for small App developers, they sell at a low price, and 30% of this low price is for Apple. Fair. Or not, you decide. But can you imagine companies like Adobe or Microsoft giving back 30% of their revenues selling the Creative Suite or Office Suite to Apple? I don’t think so. So the Mac App Store is good for selling some certain types of Apps available on the Mac, but, at least in its actual form, it is far from being the solution to sell every software on the Mac. Things may change, but not very soon I think.

  6. I have faith that between the EU and US federal government the scenario youve described would not be allowed to happen. If Microsoft was forced to unbundle IE to assuage concerns over a monopoly it seems unlikely Apple could lock their hardware.

    All that being said, I’m confident a savvy nine year old will jailbreak a locked Mac in a mattercof hours!

  7. As long as the AppStore is not the only means to put software on the Mac the censorship issue is moot and there is no reason to think that Apple would ever do that to the Mac.

    People love worry about Apple’s control issues – they do exist – but they don’t seem to be the case here. If they ever lock down the Mac is that way, I’d head for the door and switch.

  8. I’m starting to get a little worried about the absolute control trend.I can understand it on the iPhone as you never know what a naughty app might be doing with that “always connected, pay for your data usage” connection but on the mac this is less of an issue. If there is a move to all laptops having a 3G connection then maybe I can see the point in this but it is giving up a lot of control compare to what we have now.

    Apple should come out and be honest and just say what their intentions are. Not that we could wholey trust it but atleast it’s a start.

    If they do lock it down I think there would be a backlash, I hope there would be a backlash.

    By the way,it’s inherent not inherited.good post though