Operating systems

Mac App Store pros and cons: What it means for developers and users

Vincent Danen weighs the pros and cons of Mac's new App Store. While there are some benefits, he has some big problems with what the future may hold for Mac users.

Back in October 2010, Apple announced that a Mac App Store was coming, and in January it delivered on its promise. The Mac App Store is similar to the iTunes App Store for iOS applications: it allows you to find, purchase, and update your Mac applications from one central location: the App Store application that was delivered as part of Mac OS X 10.6.6.

When I first heard about this announcement, I had many misgivings. I could see, much further down the road that, depending on its success, Apple could very well force developers into using the App Store for the distribution of all things Macintosh. Considering that OS X 10.7 is going to sport a lot of changes taken from iOS, how far might Apple take it? Certainly 10.7 will still allow applications to be installed by more traditional means, but what about 10.8? Or 10.9? Apple is the biggest control freak in the industry and they control the whole stack: hardware and software. Forcing developers to follow their rules, explicitly, gives them an edge in control, and profit.

You can see this with the rules that developers must abide by for application acceptance in the App Store (http://developer.apple.com/appstore/guidelines.html for those with an appropriate developer account, and here for those without). There are a lot of stipulations here -- a lot of ways for Apple to fully control what they distribute. Granted, they have the right to refuse and accept applications (it is their store, after all) and no one can rightfully complain since we can install applications in other ways, but what happens if, or when, Apple dictates that all future application distribution for OS X has to come through its store? A whole lot of useful applications won't make the cut. And our choice, as users, would take a serious hit. Because they own the whole stack, this is a very real possibility.

There are some rules that simply don't make sense. For one, discounted upgrade prices will no longer exist (i.e., paying a smaller upgrade fee for a new major version), and paid updates to the developer will be gone (said upgrade fee). So a developer must either make the application free for life, once it's been paid, or submit it as a completely different application, without any upgrade benefits for long-time users (the same price for new and existing users).

Applications that require administrator privileges are not allowed. A whole class of useful utilities and applications are cut out of the App Store. VMware Fusion, for one, will never make it. Neither will applications like TinkerTool System (this one likely for multiple infractions).

Finally, my biggest problem with the App Store is the glaring omission of demo and trial downloads. In the App Store, you either buy the app or you don't. There is no 24-hour trial, no three-day demo period to determine if you like the application or not. For a $0.99 app this isn't really a big deal, but for a $20 app? How about a $50 app? Many of the big ticket items may have, for now, a demo version you can download from the developer's web site to give it a trial run first. But if the store doesn't tell the user this, how will they know? Does the omission of demos in the App Store prey on the ignorant? That's what it feels like to me.

Sure, there are some benefits to the App Store. For many users, it's a convenient and easy one-stop shop and while many may disagree with the App Store, there are enough people out there who have become accustomed to the experience, due to the App Store for iOS devices. It will certainly make searching for new applications easy, for those who choose to purchase as well as those who choose not to.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the App Store is its ability to track and notify of updates. Gone will be the days of outdated and potentially vulnerable applications, because the App Store will diligently notify you of new applications. This will keep you up-to-date, which is a great thing from a security perspective. Another security-relevant benefit is that with all of these vendors, you are providing your credit card information to one company: Apple. You will not need to hand out your credit card to every payment handling company or system on a per-vendor basis. One company holds the information and they handle dispersing payment after you have paid them. This keeps your valuable credit card information from being in multiple systems, reducing potential exposure or loss. Similar in concept to PayPal, love them or hate them, this offers good consumer protection.

It will be interesting to see how the App Store progresses. As it is now, it looks useful, but time will tell how far Apple pushes this as a primary distribution channel. It also depends on developers: some may have multiple distribution channels, using the App Store as one means of making their applications available, but what about those who will use the App Store exclusively as their storefront?

An app that I looked at today, Pixelmator, is available in the App Store, and their web site indicated that the next major release would be exclusive to the App Store. So if you are a Pixelmator user, you will soon have no choice but to get the next major version from the App Store.

When all is said and done, I can't say that I'm a big fan of the App Store. The success of the App Store for iOS devices pretty much made a similar mechanism for OS X a foregone conclusion. Its success, along with Apple's need for absolute control, guaranteed that something like this was coming. I liked the fact that Apple's Walled Garden had not reached OS X, and now that it's here I'm very sceptical about what the future may hold. Apple doesn't often have the best interests of users in mind. They have some great gear and some great software, but this kind of control just doesn't sit well with me. I love the platform, but am keeping my options open. Time will tell what the next step for Apple is.

About

Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.

12 comments
sbross
sbross

Since I am still running almost a ten year old Mac at OS X 10.5, I am not able to get into the new store--my computer is not current enough. After spending the better part of three afternoons this week troubleshooting an update of a Vista virus software upgrade that screwed up the works, I am not so sure that there is something deeply flawed with the design of the Apple Store. It will morph. I am really a whole lot more interested in getting things installed and functioning.

fanboi
fanboi

...but forcing developers to use a standard set of rules and guidelines for applications is IMO only a good thing. It improves amongst other things compatability and security. Do you really want to install a mass of poorly coded, half tested applications on your machine? No, I didn't think so.

mkottman
mkottman

You've made the usual mistake of technical writers; projecting that today's product (in this case the store) will remain the same while everything else progresses. "Oh my, what will we do when we are forced to buy apps through the store and they don't allow demos, upgrades, etc.?!?" I think it is incredibly likely that by the time Apple closes the garden gate and all apps must go through the store, the rules by which developers must live will have evolved to include mechanisms to deal with these issues. They may not be the mechanisms we are used to today, but change is good! I also believe that the store will be good for consumer choice. The same argument was used before Apple opened the iOS store; "there are so many restrictions no one will create apps." That has been proven wrong and so it will for this store. The reason is distribution. In ANY business, distribution is key. Think about it; Dell with the direct sell model (decades ago), Apple with the Apple Stores, and on the other side of the coin, the iPhone restricted to AT&T, are all distribution stories. How do you bring small, innovative developers to the platform? App Store! Without it the market is limited to those companies large enough to develop their own distribution; Microsoft, Apple, Adobe. Sound familiar? It should because those are the companies that sell the vast majority of Mac apps today. Bring on the App Store and bring on new, innovative developers!

MacNewton
MacNewton

"Does the omission of demos in the App Store prey on the ignorant? That?s what it feels like to me." Yes, I have always download a 30 day Demo, its just good practice. The fact that Apple never did this with their software (iLife ect.) bugged me. This is one area that all Mac users need to talk about. Let Apple know we need to try before we buy. good report!

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

First, I think Apple should solve it's security matters with the store before it actually continues to allow people to purchase anything. Second, their 30% mark-up is rediculous. You think Adobe would bother selling Creative Suite CS5 Master when Apple gets 30% of whatever is sold for. Maybe they'll drop the percentage for higher end applications... but still. The suggestion regarding not having trials and demos is not an issue unless Apple finds away to force users to install only from the app store and not from the developer's web site.

vdesilva
vdesilva

see this is the difference between MAC users and PC user. MAC users are commercial and don't get lost in the grass.

JonGauntt
JonGauntt

I'm not sure why you are saying there are no Demo versions. There's demo type products across the board. Most of them are Free and have Lite or something similar across them. This lets you try them out and then decide if you want to buy it.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

1. Apple should solve it's security matters with the store What security matters? The issues so far reported are the fault of the developers not quite following instructions rather than any perceived hole in the app store itself. 2. ... their 30% mark-up is rediculous(sp) What 30% mark up? Apple lets the developer set his own pricing and Apple takes 30% off the top to cover taxes and other financial fees--as well as their profit. From what I've read, Amazon doesn't even give the developer a choice as to the price he wants to sell it for--it's Amazon's price or no-sale.

vdesilva
vdesilva

No application should have Admin access. Yesterday I upgraded my bluetooth drivers from Bluesoleil, that seems to have gone Chinese. It would not upgrade from a normal account, even with the admin password. Consequence was thatI had to login as admin, and when I confirmed the upgrade, adobe flash was installed without any confirmation. Adobe flash is used by lots of sites to install flaky back-doors. I can list various other reasons for having tight controls on the ecosystem and when it is loose, we get virus and other intrusions. Restrictive practices hurt industries. However, when both the developer and customer see added value benefits we need to look at the distribution model again.

MacNewton
MacNewton

Its now required to have the internet on all the time. Not sure you are having this problem, but with almost all new software, there is a lot of Back ground checking going on. Its to the point that your system will slowdown if said programs can't communicate. More then a nuisance, it's getting to the point that you can't run the system. Soon we will not have stand alone systems, but hybrid computers that will require full internet all the time.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Every application wants to check for updates as soon as the computer boots up. Why can't they run [if needed] and delay checking for 15 minutes or something. DivX for Windows update checker is one such culprit. It runs at startup. You remove it from startup and the update will put still run [if not already] when you open a DivX application.

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