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The Glass Houses Report

Both Apple and Google have app stores. Big app stores, with millions of titles available for download or purchase and download. Although Apple had the lead out of the starting gate, Google is somewhat ahead of Apple now with 2.4 million offerings in the Google Play store as of September of this year. In contrast, two million items were listed at the App Store as of June, so perhaps Apple has caught up since then.

However, Apple developers appear to earn far more money. The total payouts are said to be $50 billion as of the June WWDC. But those numbers include all sales since 2008, when the App Store debuted.

The long and short of it is that you’d think both Google Play and the App Store are pretty comparable, that it probably doesn’t matter which platform you choose. You’ll probably find many of the apps you want in versions for each. But in the real world, it may not be so easy. So there are loads of wallpaper apps or apps that appear to substantially duplicate other apps at Google Play. A lot of it is sheer junk, and I observed this when I used a pair of Samsung Galaxy smartphones a couple of years back.

Indeed, I even found apps that superficially duplicated some of the look and feel of Apple Mail for iOS, or situations where developers had several different versions of an app, perhaps one free, another carrying a price tag, or was just slightly different.

Apple sweats the details more, with their app reviewers demonstrating greater commitments to making sure submissions actually work and are free of obvious bugs or security holes, before they approved and posted. Sometimes apps are removed when troubles are discovered later on, and developers have long criticized sometimes arbitrary review decisions. Apple has also been removing older apps that haven’t been updated to current iOS features. In other words, software that’s catching dust and hasn’t been updated in a while is at risk of being pulled.

The standards at Google Play are less stringent, though certainly apps that may contain security problems would not get approval or be pulled if the issues are discovered later on. The larger problem is that it may take a year or two for a new version of the Android OS to be available in a large number of smartphones. As of the first year, market share may be in the single digits. So developers are loathe to support features that only a small percentage of the user base can use. That would appear to hold back advancement of the platform.

In contrast, most users of iOS gear will upgrade their hardware within the first year, assuming that gear is compatible. Most of the upgrades occur within the first few months.

But I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether Google Play or the App Store is better for them. My experience favors the latter, and Apple is also a better fit for developers who want at least a chance to make some money. But with over two million apps, the possibility of making a killing can’t be that high.

But what about the Mac App Store?

Well, it’s a mixed bag in terms of the selection. Because of the sandboxing constraints imposed by Apple, many apps cannot be posted. Or they are posted with fewer features. Rogue Amoeba’s amazing Audio Hijack — an important tool for podcasters or anyone wishing to grab and mix audio from different sources — contains a bag of tricks that won’t past muster at the App Store.

Fortunately, developers of such apps can still sell them independently at their own sites or through such download sites as MacUpdate or CNET. Still, not being available from Apple has to reduce the chances for success. In saying that, key productivity apps with somewhat invasive installers, which put files in a number of folders on your Mac, are also excluded. You cannot buy such apps as Microsoft Office for Mac or QuarkXPress from the App Store. They are distributed direct from the publishers.

But what about the quality of the offerings at the Mac App Store?

Well, there’s a published report in a certain online publication that claims the “Mac App Store [is]  Full of Bogus Junk.” How so?

Well, the author of that piece points to several apps that appear to masquerade as apps from Adobe and Microsoft, but that may not quite be true. Examples include apps that contain training videos for Adobe Photoshop but at first may appear to be knockoffs of the app itself. But that’s not true, since they are clearly training videos, or at least that becomes clear if you read the description. So you can hardly call them bogus.

You can only download Adobe’s key Ma  productivity apps if you order up a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud. You can’t buy or subscribe to them from Apple and, as I said, the same is true for the key offerings from Microsoft, although a simpler offering, Microsoft’s free OneNote, can be downloaded from the App Store.

Users of iPhones and iPads can get mobile editions of various apps from Adobe and Microsoft, including Office. Would that Microsoft would design a version of Office for Mac that can be purchased from the Mac App Store. It would require a simpler installer and a less-invasive setup process. After all Apple’s Final Cut Pro X, which is a very sophisticated app, is available at the App Store.

But suggesting that a handful of apps that might provide training videos or offer support functions for a major productivity app doesn’t mean that the App Store is filled with knockoffs or junk. At worst, it may be that the labeling ought to be clearer.

While the article might get plenty of hits, there’s no context. How does the Mac App Store compare to what the Microsoft Store offers? Even though there are far more Windows apps than Mac apps, the quality has traditionally been lower. And developers have been slow to embrace Microsoft’s online software repository.

Yes, Apple can surely do better. And it would be nice if categories of apps that are now excluded from the App Store were allowed. But a few apps that one calls “bogus” doesn’t make it a bad place to go. It’s just someone looking for bad news about Apple even though the situation is usually worse elsewhere.