Garrett St. John

I am a web developer and partner at Bold. This is where I share my thoughts, discoveries and other random bits.

Counting the Costs of the Mac App Store

January 28, 2011

Panic announced yesterday in a blog post that they have “half released” their latest update to Transmit. It seems the update was submitted to Apple for review, but has spent over 2 weeks going through the process. Meanwhile, under pressure from the Support Team, they have gone ahead and pushed the release to direct buyers. It made me think…is the added value of a Mac App Store really worth the dependence on a third party (even if that third party is Apple)?

At launch, I really liked the idea of the Mac App Store. I felt that is served as a nice, centralized area where I could go to find apps, conveniently checkout with a provider I trust, and come back later for updates in one single place. However, it didn’t take long for the critiques to start rolling in and most of them made a lot of sense to me. But what about Panic’s latest issue? What if this release was a major bug in a core part of their software? Would users be left waiting for weeks on end?

With the Mac App Store being so new it’s no real surprise there are some glitches in the system. Here are a few issues I see that make taking the plunge a tough call:

Apps For iOS and OS X Are Different Beasts

The biggest fault I see with the Mac App Store is that it’s hard to justify the need for it. When the iPhone was first released the App Store made a lot of sense because we were talking about a smartphone with an Internet connection that could be exploited. I would have been somewhat surprised if a carrier was even willing to carry the iPhone without some controls. Apple’s review process minimizes the junk (right?) and clears out the malicious. Everyone is happy because cell phones aren’t being treated as P2P nodes, taking unexpected photos, or constantly tracking our GPS coordinates.

On the other hand, the Mac App Store is aimed at my computer. I don’t need anyone monitoring what I’m allowed to install. If a developer puts out a malicious (or even just a junky) application, the word is going to get out that it’s trash and shouldn’t be installed. If I don’t like it, I uninstall it. There’s really no need for a review process.

Lack of Control of the Experience and Process

As a developer, I value the experience that my user’s get very highly. It’s important to me (and I know even more to some of you) that my work is presented in a certain manner with a specific flow. While the Mac App Store doesn’t control the in-app experience, it does strongly effect the buying experience which is just as important (especially if you have mouths to feed at home). I will admit that the simplicity of the Mac App Store is great, but there are costs involved with surrendering this portion up to Apple.

Lag Time in Pushing Updates

As demonstrated with Transmit, it can be tough to push an important update through the system. This plays into the loss of control from my previous point. We all strive to create bug-free code, but also know it’s impossible. You better believe that when I find something, though, I’m going to fix it now and get it out fast. Not so with the Mac App Store.

The other cause for concern I see here is for those apps that are in early development, like Sparrow. I’ve been using it for some time now and it’s become very stable and offers a great feature set, but earlier on it was being updated quite often. Does this mean that Beta apps aren’t meant for the Mac App Store? Seems a shame to require apps to be fully matured before they “work” in the Mac App Store. Since apps I already have installed are recognized, wouldn’t it be nice if Apple helped Beta users transition into paying customers for v1.0? No deal.

The Cost of Convenience

I understand that not everyone is a web developer and some may not be interested in building and operating their own e-commerce website to sell their software. For this reason the Mac App Store is hugely convenient. But is it worth a 70/30 profit share with Apple? Obviously some would say yes because of the added exposure, but not everyone will be making $1 million in 20 days. With services like Quixly, digital sales and distribution aren’t an overly difficult thing to coordinate. For me, I’m taking home the extra 27% and working with PayPal (yuck) or Authorize.net.

So What Then?

All-in-all I do still think the Mac App Store is a great idea and will likely become more and more of a cash cow for Apple. I like the functionality and potential for what it could be, but I think by surrendering the experience and process to a third party, developers are left at the whim of their provider. Seems like something that definitely calls for counting the cost.