A developer’s perspective on the Mac App Store

Apple recently launched the Mac App Store via an OS update. As an app developer, I am excited to see the store experience come to the desktop because I think that ‘app stores’ in general are beneficial to developers. The Mac App Store provides a single location to find applications, automatic updates and one click purchasing. It also provides all the typical shopping experiences without any extra work from the developer: reviews, gifting, wish lists, recommendations, etc. Plus it gives a developer an instant audience of millions of potential users. Theoretically, the App Store should help reduce piracy too, though it seems some people have already cracked it. With purchases tied to a user account and the ability to ‘call home’ to check to see if you really own an application, Apple should be able to spot illegally downloaded software. Hopefully they will be able to patch the exploit, since sales lost to piracy is a major concern to developers. At the very least, app stores provide an easier, more convenient way to get software on demand than going to an illegal site to download it – something that has not always been true for the software industry.

Getting into the Mac App store has a lot of the same limitations as developing an iPhone or iPad app. There is a review process to keep out objectionable material and ensure a minimum level of quality. There are also technical limitations which are aimed at keeping out software that is buggy or can make a user’s system unstable.  Some of these limitations are:

  • apps can’t  download or install additional code or resources to add functionality or change their primary purpose
  • apps can’t download other apps or have their own store for apps or plugins
  • apps can’t start other processes that keep running after the app quits (without user consent)
  • apps can’t collect or give away user’s information without consent
  • apps can’t make themselves run at startup without consent
  • apps can’t install to shared folders

Some types of applications, such as Plugins for Photoshop are left out in the cold. In general though, these rules should help give a level of certainty and comfort to users about what they are purchasing (that it works and won’t mess up their system). This makes buying from the app store a less risky proposition than buying from individual companies on the web. Apple still does not allow ‘trial’ applications, which I think will be more sorely missed on the desktop where applications are more expensive and 30 day trials are customary.

In the end, the Mac App store is still just another distribution channel. There’s no exclusivity clause, so developers are still free to offer their products via other channels. The benefits far outweigh the shortcomings and there is little doubt that Mac and iOS developers will be flocking to the platform in the coming year.

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