My take on the Mac App Store

January 9, 2011

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the newly released Apple Mac App Store. (Especially with the recent blow up about how GPL licensed apps conflict with the App Store restrictions, and therefore can’t live on the App Store). But that’s another story.

I wanted to give my own thoughts at the moment. Personally, as I started browsing through the store, I realized, that I really loved the idea of this. Primarily for two reasons:

  1. I’ve lost licenses in my day, and hate trying to keep the copies of software I own, in the versions I own, with the licenses I own, all organized, and then upon every new machine install, it’s a painful cycle of physical media swapping, installing, and digging for downloaded software through folders of junk.   The idea of a single place where all my updates are handled, my licenses are always carried/remembered, is a dream come true there.  (See caveats later)  Plus all of my dread of getting a new computer, or doing a fresh wipe/install would disappear.  As it would be a breeze to install a new computer, then go into the App Store and install everything.
  2. Looking in the store, you see tons of Apps that probably wouldn’t have ever existed before.  Having an easy path to create $1 to $5 small apps and games and directly sell them, is going to inspire creativity, just like it did on the iPhone.  For example you couldn’t find $5 games for the Mac in the past, and if you did, it was a painful process buying/installing them, and you always questioned their value anyway.

Now, as I say that, and bask in the glow … I think that the App store has a serious chance of completely flopping.  What?  Yeah, I do.  And it’s a case of the devil being in the details.

As it stands, there are a number of problems with the current setup, that actually could be painful enough to kill it, if Apple doesn’t move fast enough to ‘fix’ these.  And honestly, Apple isn’t known for moving fast in response to feedback.

So what are the biggest issues?  From what I can see, they are:

  1. For my utopia mentioned above to come true, everyone must be in the App Store.  As long as Apple has licensing restrictions that keeps some people out (GPL), then that can never be realized, and it can be a worse situation where some software you’ve downloaded/installed otherwise, and some via the App Store.
  2. There is a pain right now, because software you currently own, can’t be marked as owned in the App Store, and in turn follow it’s free updates path.  Worse, it’s broken, as in many cases it sees that you have the software installed, and it marks it as owned.  But it’s my understanding that updates won’t work, since it wasn’t installed by the App Store.  They need a way to clean this up.  Not only because of the current situation (as that will solve itself over time, as you keep buying newer versions in the App Store).  But also because of future situations.  What if someone gave you software (on a disc) as a present?  If everything you owned was via the App Store, and you couldn’t ‘sync’ that disc to the App Store, that would be a painful situation for you.
  3. Lack of ‘upgrade’ discounts.  In the current model of desktop software, people always go and create new versions of the software, and then offer a discount for people upgrading, versus new purchases, to keep their customer base loyal.   There is no way to do this in the App Store.   So if you have a new Major release, you only have 2 options.  Release it for free as an update, or submit it as a new app in the store (MyWidget v3), and charge a single set price.   There isn’t a mechanism to provide a discount if someone already owned v2.   This breaks the model that’s been used for over a decade in the software industry, and therefore is a major pain point I’ve seen discussed by software developers.   Apple really needs a mechanism to provide these verified discounts.

I’m sure there are more issues, but those are the big ones that I see holding adoption back at the moment.  We’ll see what the future holds, I’m optimistic, but Apple’s got some changes to be a-making.