Mac App Store opens - is it good news?
Friday, 07 January 2011

A new Mac app store should be good news for developers - but not everyone is convinced. We weigh up the pros and cons for users and developers.

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The new Mac App store opened yesterday with around 1000 free and paid apps on offer.

To use it Mac Users first need the Mac App Store software update to  Mac OS X v10.6 (Snow Leopard). The next full version, Lion, is expected to have the Mac App Store already integrated.

The App Store is part of Apple's iTunes Store that already caters for users of its  iOS devices, iPhone, iPad and ipod touch and lets Mac users download and install apps in a single step.

The apps are arranged in categories - Education, Games, Graphics & Design, Lifestyle, Productivity, Utilities - as well as in  "new and noteworthy", "what's hot" and in lists of top paid and free apps. Search and user ratings and reviews also help customers select apps.

 

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So is the idea of extending the app store model developed for smartphones and then tablet devices such as the iPod touch to desktop computer software good for users and for developers?

The advantages for users seem clear enough: it simplifies the process of searching for apps and comparing competitive products. Browsing might turn up products users weren't previously aware of an all products will have been screened by Apple for malware.

Apple approval, however, isn't necessarily seen as a boon - as demonstrated in its fight with Adobe Systems over Flash, Apple can be very restrictive and proprietorial.

Developers may have other concerns - in particular pricing and competition. As David Gewirtz explains on his blog while desktop products have traditionally commanded relatively high prices once iOS developers are competing in this market prices are likely to fall. Gewirtz sees it in terms of "Armageddon" writing:

iOS developers are not like Mac developers.

Sure, the development environment is largely the same, but what I'm talking about is their business model. iOS developers are Huns, compared to the Mac developers, which are — essentially — Romans awaiting a thorough sacking.

On TUAW, Richard Gaywood has produced a breakdown of the prices of 959 unique apps currently on sale in the Mac App Store which shows that almost half are in the sub $5 or free category, with many of them being ports of iOS games.

 

macapppricing

(Click to enlarge)

 

On the  other hand there are numerous products selling for $20 or more - and these tend to be traditional Mac software packages which have maintained their price points according to Richard Gaywood.

macappstore

Apple has release the good news that in its first day the Mac App store has been used to download one million apps - yes one million. This means that potential Armageddon can't be avoided - if Armageddon it is.

The point is that there are apps and there are real applications and others are just "apps". Some pieces of software are small, trivial almost, and require little in the way of support other than new versions and occational bug fixes. These are the ideal app fodder and they fit into the category that used to be sold as shareware, or some other low-priced/low-mantainance marketing.

For products that fit the profile, apps stores work well. However this doesn't mean that there aren't applications that don't fit the profile. If it is big, complicated and needs lots of attention devoted to the end user, then you might still sell it in an app store but it isn't going to sell for $1.99.

Big apps still exist and they aren't doing to be sold for less just because you can buy Angry Birds for under five dollars...

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