Mac App Store raises some questions
Some commentators have said that the announcement of the Mac App Store was the most significant part of yesterday's press conference at Cupertino. I will not argue with this and I believe it is a logical but brave step for Apple.
The iPhone App Store came as a surprise and few imagined that it would grow as is has done, with billions of downloads from hundreds of thousands of Apps. Yet there is absolutely no reason why the concept cannot be extended to all computer software and that is the step Apple has now taken.
Anyone familiar with both iOS4 and OS X will immediately realise the advantages of the App Store eco-system: Easy choice, instant download, automatic installation, automatic updates. Once experienced on the iPhone or iPad, it makes the traditional OS X buying experience feel very last century.
First you have to find the developer's web site, then download a file, then go through a step-by-step installation process. Often you have to wait for an activation code of registration number to be emailed. And every developer has different policies on licensing. Some restrict you to one computer, others allow a laptop and a desktop while some offer "family" packs with one licence. Yet others restrict you by permitting only one iteration to run on a network at any one time. It's all complicated and all these uncertainties will be swept away by the Mac App Store.
I believe developers will readily embrace the store concept after seeing the way it works in iOS4. They won't begrudge Apple their 30% because they will know that the store offers a better shopwindow and promises increased sales, particularly when a popular app goes viral by being bumped up the listings in the store.
According to Apple, though, we will still be able to buy and install software outside the store (something that is not permitted in iOS4). This is a good thing, especially for some more complicated products that would be restricted by the store's rules. Yet in the meantime users could be left with a two-tier system.
We never had a choice with the iPhone, so every bit of software we own is part of the App Store eco-system. On our Macs, though, we all possess lots of licensed applications that we will have to update in the usual way and will remain outside the store system, even when developers introduce the same app to the store. Will they offer existing licence holders a free entry to the store? I hope so, because I can foresee a rather messy period where most of our favourite apps are outside the store system while new purchases are inside. It will be interesting to see how Apple and the developers handle this and, I am sure, more details will emerge during the next 90 days before the store goes live. It will surely be in both Apple's and the developers' best interests to get everything into the store eco-system as soon as possible.