Should developers be concerned over the upcoming Mac App Store?

Wed, Oct 27, 2010


The days of rummaging through store shelves at Comp USA or through the pages of MacWarehouse for Macintosh software are long gone. Come January 2011, Apple’s newly announced Mac app store may very well become the primary method for users to browse, discover, and download quality Mac software.

There’s no denying that Apple’s app store for the iPhone and iPod Touch revolutionized the way users not only download content, but how they use mobile devices themselves. In the process, Apple has helped innumerable developers earn a good sum of money via mobile app sales, and with Apple’s Mac App Store scheduled to launch in just 3 months, many of those developers are wondering if lightning can strike twice.

With Apple continuing to sell record numbers of Macs quarter after quarter, being part of a Mac App Store accessible to millions of Mac users is no doubt an enticing propopsition for developers. But that’s not to say that developers don’t harbor reservations regarding Apple’s upcoming software initiative.

Red Shed’s Jonathan Rentzsch, though excited about the prospects of a Mac app store, recently penned a blogpost outlining some of his concerns – namely that small time developers will be left out to dry.

My fellow Mac developers are laughing at the Mac App Store guidelines. They’re reporting that apps they’ve been shipping for years — a number of them Apple Design Award-winning — would be rejected from the Mac App Store. These are proven apps, beloved by their users. The current guidelines are clearly out-of-touch.

Apple, a corporation with billions and billions of dollars in the bank, is taking 30% of small Mac developer’s revenue — an outrageously high fee, more than three times what popular high-end fulfillment provider FastSpring charges…

Fair points all around.

Now as for Apple’s app store restrictions, Paul Kafasis of Rogue Amoeba (which has a stellar working relationshipwith Apple) told Ars Technica that some of his apps may not pass muster under Apple’s new Mac app store guidelines. “It’s certainly something we’re looking at, but the restrictions and guidelines they’ve published are onerous at best”, Kafasis explained.

Kafasis, though, is not alone, and given the tremendous volume of criticism levied at Apple over their operation of the iTunes App Store, that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Ambrosia Software president Andrew Welch expressed similar concerns over Apple’s Mac app store guidelines. “Ambrosia is certainly interested in the idea of a centralized Mac application store,” Welch writes, “However the restrictions imposed by Apple on the applications may make it impossible for a number of our applications to be submitted.”

Regarding Apple’s 30% cut – that is an arguably high cut of revenue for desktop apps, but one can make a strong case that access to an installed base of tens of millions of Mac users will enable developers to easily make up for lower revenue per unit sold with an enormous increase in sales volume. Moreover, a centralized store where users can easily browse and purchase Mac apps may create an entirely new market for software among users who wouldn’t ordinarily purchase software in the first place.

Also, keep in mind that developers today don’t necessarily keep 100% of revenue on software sales anyways. Delicious Monster’s Wil Shipley explained to Ars.

When you look at it, by the time you’ve gotten big enough to get your boxes in retail stores you’re only getting about 45 percent of your list price anyhow; getting 70 percent from a high-volume store seems like a screaming deal.

But app store guidelines and revenue cuts are just the tip of the iceberg. Other issues developers will need to grapple with include how to provide technical support, the inability to give users refunds, the inability to provide software on a trial basis, and as Jonathan Rentzsh notes, Apple keeping “customer data away from developers.”

Unless Apple differentiates the way it runs the Mac app store from the iOS App Store, the lack of downloadable trial software may very well prove to be cost prohibitive for consumers. Quality Mac software tends to cost significantly more than apps for iOS devices, and so while users may not think twice about spending $1.99 for an intriguing iPhone app, downloading a $19.99+ app for the Mac without the benefit of trying out the software first would naturally give most, if not all consumers, pause. The flip side is that maybe cheaper Mac software will find its way into the app store as a result, all but negating the allure of a Mac app store for polished software in the first place.

Also a concern is that apps purchased via the Mac app store, according to Steve Jobs, will run anywhere, which is an obvious concern for publishers like Adobe whose software is sold on a per license basis.

Needless to say, there are valid concerns to be had, but overall it seems that a Mac app store is a step in the right direction. With so many free services available online, the very notion of purchasing software has arguably been forgotten – aside, of course, from mainstays like Microsoft Office, Adobe software, and gaming titles. If Apple can address some of the aforementioned developer concerns, the Mac App Store may change the way the masses use and interact with their Macs.



4 Comments For This Post

  1. FutureMedia Says:

    Why don’t free trial first software developers sell their Mac Apps Free with an in-app purchase after 30 days of a trial or without that purchase disable the app’s ability to launch or work aft launch? Won’t Apple allow that?

  2. Roger Says:

    I think the idea of an app store is trend setting. Large developers may currently only be getting 45 – 50 % of the sales so it is a definate revenue booster for them. No cost of discs, replication, packaging. I think they could charge less, sale more, and the users could actually get a break from $800.00 software titles. I think for the developer, Apple, and the user it is a win-win-win scenario.

  3. addicted Says:

    The whole “small devs will suffer” idea doesn’t bear out, at least not from the history of the iOS App Store.

    Its the small developers who are doing best there. Outside of the iOS App Store (and other similar derivatives, like the Android Marketplace), how many other platforms can you name where a small studio like Rovio, or Tapulous is kicking a large publisher like EA’s backside on a daily basis?

  4. SeanMcg Says:

    The reference to Adobe and run anywhere licensing is arguably a red herring as I cannot envision that the large Adobe products, with their complexity, would even be suitable for the Mac App Store. This is precisely why I don’t see an end to boxed software on the Mac. There are too many large suites or complex apps for which online download may not be practical, at least not in the short term.

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