Under The Microscope

Quick Thoughts on the Mac App Store

App Store IconAfter more than two years of the App Store on iOS, Apple has finally decided to bring an App Store to the Mac as well. It’s certainly not unexpected, but for many developers, it’s an idea which has sparked feelings of both excitement and dread.

The App Store on iOS has been phenomenally successful for Apple, for users, and for some developers. However, it’s also had many glaring shortcomings which have yet to improve.

We’re still gathering information about the Mac App Store, but a quick look at some pros and cons may be informative.

Pros

The Mac App Store will make it possible for developers to reach nearly 100% of Mac users (on Mac OS X 10.6 or up, anyhow). That’s incredible – 50 million users, a few clicks away. Right now, software developers work incredibly hard to get their products in front of users, and the App Store can potentially make this much simpler1.

As well, the Mac App Store will offer an improved experience for users of third party software. There’s no question about it, the Mac App Store is going to make finding and using third-party software easier than it’s ever been. With simple installations and easy payment, it has the potential to make third-party software useful to everyone, even novice users. With a more convenient way to access third-party software, it’s likely that users will purchase more, and that’s good for everyone.

Cons

For developers, however, there are quite a few cons to the Mac App Store, when compared to selling on our own. To rattle off a few of these, there appear to be no trials, no paid upgrades, no access to customer information, no coupons, and no ability to ship updates outside of the store. As well, the list of allowable software is quite narrow and the fees (Apple’s 30%) are much higher than developers currently pay to payment processors.

As the iOS App Store has shown, developing under these conditions is of course still possible. However, many of the items above are things which improve the experience of being a developer and make things better for users as well. Having access to our own customers means we can work with them to improve our software and telling them about new products can provide an invaluable boost via word-of-mouth. Losing that is a definite negative.

Worth Noting

Even if a developer is willing to deal with these issues, his application must be accepted into the App Store. If left as is, Apple’s acceptance guidelines are going to prevent whole classes of already-popular software from making their way to the store. Unlike iOS, the App Store on the Mac won’t yet be the exclusive way to get software. For now, at least, you’ll still be able to download directly from a developer, as you’ve always been able to do on Mac OS X.

Coming Soon?

So, the big question is, will you see Rogue Amoeba applications in the Mac App Store? Right now, we don’t know. With Apple’s onerous guidelines, most of our applications would not be approved. Even if they would be, however, are the benefits good enough to give up being a truly independent software developer?

Of course, our software is already available for use, with free trials for download and licenses purchasable through our store.


Footnotes:

1. If the Mac App Store gets as crowded as the iOS App Store, it may be difficult to actually get noticed. Time will tell there.

19 Responses to “Quick Thoughts on the Mac App Store”

  1. Joseph Hurtado says:

    In my opinion the MacAppStore was inevitable, and it does offer advantages to very small independent developers who don’t have their e-commerce site online, or who have a limited / cumbersome one.

    I do think Apple should:
    - Relax the stringent rules for app. approval for Mac OS X.
    - Reduce the 30% to a much more reasonable number.

    In the end, developers will send submit their apps to Apple anyway. IMHO you can still sell from your website, your affiliates and even physical stores, so why not get Apple to sell for you too?

    Joseph Hurtado
    from Toronto

  2. Waldbaer says:

    I really hope that you and many other developer companies of smaller size will even be able to still exist in a few years and not being either ignored by too many users (because if they CAN be lazy and just search the App store, many of them will probably exclusively do so) or forced into a restrictive system completely under apple’s command.

    By the way, since we just talked about direct contact between customers and developers: I as a fission user had the idea to save a splitted audio file alternatively as one chaptered file some time ago and also sent it to your support. I’m interested if there is a chance that you will implement that anytime soon (I don’t imagine it that complicated to code, since it is just a little, but very annoying work to do it manually using Quicktime pro by just adding a text track to the original file). Maybe this could also make fission more attractive to many users since it would make it really easy to make grouped cd tracks imported to iTunes usable without any quality loss.

  3. Steven says:

    With the Mac App Store, Apple is basically just saying they will market your app for you, for a 30% fee, oh and you can’t spam your users. Its win-win-win as I see it.

    Offer a perpetual 10% off promotion on your website. Those users who find your site will get it for cheaper, you’ll get more revenue, and you can still be in Apple’s store.

  4. connectionfailure says:

    Great, now instead of downloading a demo/free trial, we will have a polluted app store with “Lite” versions and “Full
    versions. We then have to remember to delete the “Lite” version after purchasing the “Full” one. Another chore.
    And also in-app purchases that don’t sync with MobileMe and can easily get lost. Yippee.

  5. Mark says:

    Why doesn’t a developer come up with a competing store with less onerous rugulations? Steam does this with games, Amazon does this with books/music. Why doesn’t some developer see this as a terrific opportunity to do it better than Apple? If Apple starts locking down osx to prevent something like this I could see some users/developers getting upset and moving to other operating environments.

    Rogue Amoeba, you guys are as good as anyone for such a task.

  6. Paul Kafasis says:

    Joseph Hurtado: As far as “why not get Apple to sell for you too?”, a big problem with that is it’s not as if you can simply upload the same version. If nothing else, you need to remove all licensing code, and updating code, to make the app compatible. Depending on the app, bigger changes may be required.

    Waldbaer: The future, a few years out, is definitely the concern.

    As far as feature requests go, emailing us is the way to go, as you’ve done. Beyond that, we don’t announce features or future plans. We listen to what users ask for in aggregate, so we’ll see what happens.

    Steven: This is what people said about iOS as well, but what marketing do you think Apple does, exactly? The store makes it possible to search for and purchase the app. If you’re very lucky, you might be a featured download, or wind up in a Top list. Otherwise? There’s no marketing whatsoever. For what Apple provides, we pay far less than 30% to our various providers – we don’t view that cost as a win at all.

    As for “spamming users”, it’s not as if this is a problem today. Users purchase our software, and can sign up for our mailing list. We email them 3 or 4 times a year on major updates, and every time we do, we , Having a mailing list of customers is not the same thing as spam, and it’s incorrect to conflate the two.

    As noted to Joseph, it’s not quite as simple as just “offer it in their store and on your own site”, though yes, that will be possible it appears.

    Mark: Two words – “market penetration”. Several developers HAVE tried – see Bodega, among others. The problem is getting your App Store in front of users. Apple’s will ship with the device, and no one else’s will.

    For us, we’re software developers, we’re not looking to create a marketplace. We want to sell our own software, and for the past 8 years, that’s worked pretty well. If the App Store is simply one more way to do this, then we can choose to ignore it if we like.

    Also, it’s an interesting sidenote that Apple highlighted Valve in their presentation, yet the Steam app won’t even be allowed in the Mac App Store.

  7. Jon H says:

    “Also, it’s an interesting sidenote that Apple highlighted Valve in their presentation, yet the Steam app won’t even be allowed in the Mac App Store.”

    AutoCAD was also highlighted, and it likely wouldn’t be allowed either.

    I’m not sure why either would *want* to be in the store. Steam doesn’t need Apple’s help to get market exposure, and AutoDesk wouldn’t want to give up 30% of the $4,000 price of AutoCAD for Mac, or be limited to Apple’s licensing.

  8. Glenn Fleishman says:

    I went and read the lengthy list of “don’ts” on the developer site, and it’s pretty ugly. I wonder if Apple will listen to what developers say and modify the program a bit; it’s clear from recent events that Apple can respond if it chooses. The marketing engine of the Mac App Store won’t overwhelm all those restrictions for developers who produce products with any depth and complexity, it seems to me.

    I don’t see any restriction that prevents trial/demo/beta/etc versions from being offered on your own site, but that doesn’t help you market and I’m sure you can’t refer to them in the Mac App Store.

    Ditto, the lack of paid upgrade paths is ridiculous.

  9. Alex says:

    From the user’s point of view, I get the sense that the most important pitfall of the new store is your footnote. How many of use actually *like* to browser the app store as it is now? I for one can’t stand it, aside from occasionally glancing at the front page. On top of the low junk to gem ratio, it’s not especially functional, let alone enjoyable to use. You’re basically stuck with relying on blogs and such to find new apps, just like regular software. Also, it’s far too cumbersome to check the release notes of updated apps —for those of us that care to know, say, if an update will inadvertently nuke all your in-app data.

    The fact that the store looks like a separate app gives me at least some hope that it won’t fall into the iTunes abyss of mediocrity. Apple says it’s learned from the iPhone and iPad in product design, but does that translate into not committing the same mistakes? —forcing developers to comply to overly strict guidelines is of course among these. Somehow disappointment seems to be lurking on the horizon.

  10. Steve Carpenter says:

    Nows the time…

    sparkle.andymatuschak.org = Fairly universal fab update mechanism
    independantappstore.com = Next step the indie developers need

    Rather then offering advice, surely its best to direct the effort into a store using an open standard, just like sparkle?

    Surely better than signing onto apples new orchard?

  11. Paul Kafasis says:

    Glenn Fleishman: Ugly indeed. We’ll see how much these things change, or how often exceptions are granted.

    Steve Carpenter: Right now, we’re still digesting, and assessing what problems there are. That takes a few hours. Creating an entire independent store, and then getting it in front of even a small fraction of users, is a whole lot more work.

    That said, one thing we can do is raise the bar as much as possible, to make trying and purchasing as smooth as possible. We’ve always tried to do that, but perhaps now is the time to focus on that further.

  12. Sofia Dvoynos says:

    I don’t think the experience will be good neither for users nor developers. For users it will be awful to not be in touch with the devs directly – we have been building an interaction with our clients, and what now? They won’t even give us access to our clients e-mails? Ridiculous!

    For the devs, it is a nightmare, we’ll have to rewrite all of our apps, and then, they could not get accepted? Or work a whole year on a project, and then Apple will say that it doesn’t meet paragraph 8, sub paragraph b of their guideline? Will we be indie developers? Because basically we’ll be working for Apple. And give them 1/3 of the hard earned money? For what? exposure? they will ‘expose’ a few apps, all the rest will be somewhere in the chaotic App Store (as we see it now on the iOS store).

    Probably it is good for small devs, but bad times are coming for middle sized developers.

  13. Craig Hunter says:

    I have about 15 iOS apps on iTunes, and sell/distribute two Mac apps from my website. The only plusses I see from iTunes are ease of distribution and checkout. The downside is a massive loss of control over versions, updates, demos, and bug fixes. Having to wait 7-10 days for Apple to review and approve every update is stressful. There’s no worse situation to be in than having an urgent bug fix stalled by the Apple review cycle. On the Mac side, I can push updates instantly.

    Now, one big plus of the App Store is exposure, but in reality, very few developers benefit from it. Being featured or noticed on the App Store can make or break apps. I can compare different pairs of my similar apps, and the only thing separating the successful ones from the duds is that the successful ones got featured at some point. If your app is not featured, it will not get exposure and won’t be noticed on a large scale, thus negating any perceived benefit of being on the App Store.

    I think I read somewhere that less than 10% of devs make any reasonable money on iTunes, and of those, many do it with large external marketing budgets. That means that those of us who have benefitted from Apple features end up being a small fraction. If I had to guess, it’s probably 2-5%. So I think it’s reasonable to estimate that 95-98% of devs are not really seeing any sales/exposure benefit from being on iTunes. If the Mac App store is smaller, that may be different. But if there’s a gold rush and it blows up, I think most developers will continue to get lost.

  14. Darren says:

    One thing that has been rolling around in my head is license transfers.

    Say as a current customer, I would prefer using the Mac App Store (MAS) to manage my updates. Will there be a method to transfer my current license to the MAS? I could see many customers being interested in that ability. It would also be beneficial for the real small developer who no longer wants to run his/her own store.

    I could also see the other direction being of interest to users. Especially if Apple one day decides an upgrade isn’t eligible to be in the store further or our right drops an app from their store.

  15. James says:

    Really I don’t see much to worry about in the App store for established small software shops. Software customers like myself have little to gain from it, I have never bought a piece of 3rd party software (ranging from $30 shareware utilities to my $2,500 CAD workhorse) without a trial or demo. I will probably cruise the aisles once in a while as I do for iPhone apps, looking for something which might be useful, and I might blow ten bucks once in a while on something of obvious value. Most likely it will be a ‘grownup’ version of something I already use and value on my iPhone, so that’s your demo right there.

    I do think there could be improvements in the consumer experience outside of the App store – at present when I identify a need for some particular utility I have to put up with an irritating PC-centric site like Tucows. I would love to see an independent Mac-only store that offered a full range of professional-quality software through a standardized experience. How about a coop? There are plenty of examples of extremely successful marketing/distribution cooperatives out there in other industries, everything from butter (Land O’ Lakes) to hardware (Ace). A coop could gain advantages of scale in marketing for small operators while allowing them to keep their independent identities. For consumers it would offer a trusted umbrella brand for a comprehensive range of software needs from those individual suppliers. This would be great time to set up such a major competitor to the Mac App store, putting to rest all the present anxieties of a single walled garden for the OS.

    I offer this comment as a small business user who has been entirely committed to the Mac OS since 1994. I have just enough tech skills and intellectual curiosity to do what I need to do software-wise to keep my business sharp, efficient and alert. A typical long-term customer?

  16. James says:

    By the way, like a lot of users I discovered Dropbox initially as a free iPhone file-transfer utility. I quickly found it to be an invaluable sharing and backup tool between my multiple Mac workstations and now have a paid subscription.

  17. UltimateFrontier says:

    Tucows????? Why not use MacUpdate? It’s much much better. Or just google for “audio recording Mac” or whatevers.

    Anyway, I guess I would like to see AudioHijack in the store since it’s one of my favorites. Other people should know about it too!! But if Apple won’t allow it? Screw them!

    Keep rocking hard.

  18. Michael Critz says:

    Great read, Paul,

    I’m all for a Mac OS port of Cydia — an app store that does all the things Apple’s App Store does without all the Apple strings.

    What do you think?

  19. Scott B says:

    I would love to see pulsar in the app store. It is a great app and I recommenced it to anyone using a mac that has sirius xm.


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