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  • The Mac App Store: Welcome to a Brand New World — Maybe!

    January 7th, 2011

    The original prediction had it that Apple’s brand spanking new Mac App Store would arrive at Noon Eastern Thursday, but it went live hours earlier, in sync with the arrival of the Mac OS 10.6.6 update. I assume, for the moment, that most of you who are using Snow Leopard did see signs of that file when you ran Software Update. If not, no problem. The updater is also available at Apple’s support site for direct download.

    Now in theory, when you install 10.6.6, a new App Store icon will appear in the Dock after you restart your Mac. But theories don’t always work in practice. My experiences have been mixed. On my MacBook Pro, it was there, no problem. But not on my iMac. Since both had the same Snow Leopard revision ahead of the installation, and I don’t use strange system enhancement utilities, something was evidently lost in the transaction.

    Sure, the App Store, well, app, is safely stored in the Applications folder, but if it’s not in the Dock by default, lots of Mac users won’t see it if the installation goes awry. I don’t pretend to know if my anomalous experience represents a large number of Mac users or not. Let’s just talk it up to a fairly unique glitch, at least for now.

    As of Day One, some 1,000 apps were reportedly available in the App Store. My Inbox was stuffed with press releases from companies hoping to enlarge that number really fast. While you may not see 300,000 apps there within three years, as was the case with the iOS App Store, it’s quite possible loads of developers will rush to the platform to get their day in the sun. The relative ease of porting iOS apps to the Mac means that some of those programs will soon be available for both.

    Among the earliest entrants are, of course, Apple’s iLife 11, and iWork 09, both of which are available ala carte for somewhat lower prices than the bundled versions. Here you see the advantages and limitations of the App Store approach. If you want, for example, Pages and not Keynote or Numbers, you don’t have to pay for them too.

    Multiple user licensing is, however, slightly confusing. With iTunes, you’re licensed for up to five computers, but the App Store’s terms indicate, “After you purchase an application, you can install it free of charge on every Mac you use.”

    Even 10? What about 50? I’m curious as to how far this licensing expansion extends. Regardless, it frees you of the obligation to pay for “family packs,” thus saving some money in the bargain.

    On the negative side of the ledger, developers are severely constrained in some ways if they opt to participate in the App Store. For one thing, updates are presented as free. They can’t charge you for the revision, although I suppose there will be some method of packaging major upgrades different to require a brand new purchase, but that means you won’t be eligible for a lower price if you already have a previous version of an app. Transferring the user list from a developer’s files may be possible ultimately, but many developers would prefer to keep their customers rather than pass them on to Apple.

    Support for the apps you already have installed is also mixed bag. It works fine with Apple’s products and, evidently, with at least some freebies. But paid apps are another story, and how Apple would extend support for the tens of thousands of third-party products out there . More than likely, if you’re already a paid customer, you’ll either have to buy an all-new version when it becomes available from the App Store, or acquire a cheaper upgrade version from the developer’s own site; the same is true for the maintenance updates you got directly from the publishers.

    Support for suites appears to be lacking for now, which excludes not only Apple’s professional content creation apps, but products from Adobe, Microsoft and loads of other developers. I suppose they could unbundle their suites and enter the App Store if the installation process is otherwise compatible, but we’ll have to see how such scenarios are handled, or maybe Apple will consider offering full-blown suites. And remember, even if you buy an entire album from iTunes, you are still just downloading a bunch of separate tracks. It’s just a matter of batch downloading, whereas an app suite would require special installers to integrate shared libraries and that sort thing.

    Also prohibited, at least for now, are apps that place files in other than the accepted locales (such as the Applications and Application Support folders), and ones that install kernel extensions. That means that loads of system tools, plus audio capture apps that include Ambrosia’s WireTap Studio, aren’t allowed.

    But that’s now, and I expect that Apple will expand the possibilities for App Store products as the service grows. For now it appears that the mere existence of such an integrated software download repository is going to ultimately mean the end of direct sales, either from dealers or the developers themselves.

    For many Mac users, the absence of third-party app resources might be a good thing. It means, as with the iOS App Store, that you can go to one place to get the software you want, assuming it’s available. The end of retail boxes and third-party distribution channels may, in the end, mean more profits for developers. In many cases, they will be able to cut the prices and more than make up for the difference in higher unit sales, along with having a fixed cost of doing business (aside from their own employees of course). As with the original App Store, Apple gets a 30% piece of the pie to do all the back-end work of delivering apps to millions of loyal Mac users.

    As I said, it’s a work in progress, and we’ll see in the next few days just what sort of flaws, accidental or otherwise, Apple will have to confront.



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