No Demos? No Big Deal: Mac App Store's Still a Net Gain for Devs
Apple's refusal to allow beta and trial versions of software applications in its upcoming Mac App Store may frustrate some developers, but in the long run, it will be beneficial. The store will be an uncluttered market overseen by a trusted cashier, and meanwhile, devs are still free to distribute pared-down versions on their own websites, where they can also have the chance to engage customers directly.
12/07/10 5:00 AM PT
While the latest rumors suggest that Apple may open its new Mac OS X App Store as soon as next week, controversy still abounds: Last week Apple told its developer community not to submit demos, trials, or beta software to the Mac OS X App Store for review.
If you read this as a developer, this might spark outrage at Apple's overt control of the applications it's willing to peddle. Just more draconian rules to follow that make it more difficult for hard-working developers to make a living. On the flip side, if you're a consumer, the new "rule" is more likely to incite a yawn.
Because I'm primarily a consumer and not a developer, I'm having a hard time worrying about this. I hate to rain on the parade of all the developers out there who actually build the goodness that I consume, but this sort of seemingly arbitrary rule isn't bad for consumers, and in the long run, I think it'll it be good for Mac developers, too.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I'm quite pleased with the rule.
Deleted, or Just in Remission?
For starters, I already find installing and deleting applications on my Macs a pain in the butt. Mac OS X is way more flexible and complicated than iOS on my iPhone, and I appreciate its flexibility and power. But I can say that installing and deleting applications is currently a mess.
For experts, everything might seem orderly and self-explanatory, but from what I've seen, it's rarely simple. About half the time I download a program and install it, even if I do it from an old-school CD or DVD, the application might be a simple drag-and-drop deal or it might have an installer that walks me through a series of steps. Usually it goes well because, after all, we are talking about Macs here.
But sometimes it seems like the application is more akin to cold sore than code that can be deleted -- because somewhere, somehow, there's some sort of system preference or file that's left behind, and it will ultimately reappear when it's least wanted.
In some cases, these old leftover tidbits have made the installation of new versions of applications stumble for me. There have been a few cases where I've downloaded trial versions of applications to test out, then ultimately decided against buying the full version, only to return to the application months later and shell out for the full version. And then you're in a situation where you're installing a new version of the app over the top of leftover pieces of a trial version. And then something doesn't work quite right.
I've got an Adobe app that uses another Adobe app that tells me I need to update one of the apps before I can update the app I actually use, and somehow, it all remains a bit of a mess, despite my downloading and updating efforts. And this comes from a well-known company that produces some excellent apps. Imagine how your Mac experience could spiral quickly out of control if thousands of Mac developers -- some new, some experienced, some well-funded, some under-funded -- inundated the Mac App Store with trial versions or beta versions? I believe my Adobe problem stems from a pair of related demo versions I downloaded and ultimately decided weren't worth the expense for my particular needs. For now, I can mostly ignore the issue and click on the little annoying pop-up alerts to make them go away, but one day, I'm going to really want to upgrade to the next version, and if that fails, my minor irritation will escalate into some wicked swearing that won't ultimately do anything positive. I'll waste a lot of time figuring it out, and then I'll hold a long-standing simmering grudge against Adobe.
From Apple's perspective, what's the worst possible outcome of the Mac App Store?
I think that would be a poor user experience. Because iOS is so much simpler -- at the very least, must more controlled -- than Mac OS X, it's relatively easy for Apple to control the installation and removal of apps from an iOS device. With Mac OS X, Apple spells out where developers should store files and databases on a Mac, but as near as I can tell, the only way Apple can enforce those rules is through its Mac App Store review process.
You can still buy or download applications that couldn't care less about Apple's rules and still run them on a Mac just fine. The issues I see crop up arise as my Mac becomes more and more complicated, which are then carried forward to my next Mac, which I upgrade to by copying over almost every setting and application. The sins of the father sort of thing.
Mac OS X and the ways in which Macs are used make them inherently more complicated than iOS devices. I can understand why Apple wants to avoid any possible area of confusion, complication and contention. But what about the benefits?
First of all, Apple is not saying that developers can't have betas, trial versions or demos. Apple is simply saying that it's only going to sell retail-ready versions of its applications. Nothing half-baked. In fact, Apple notes, "Your website is the best place to provide demos, trial versions or betas of your software for customers to explore."
Why is this good for developers? How many people sometimes visit a company's website before they buy and download an iOS app? My hand is raised. In fact, the higher the cost of the app, the more likely that I'll extend my research to the company's website to help me decide on buying the app. If I'm on the fence, seeing what a developer has to offer on their website might tip me in the right direction.
While I'm there on the site, the developer can pitch me in ways that are outside of Apple's forms and control. In fact, giving potential buyers a reason to go to a developer's website is inherently a great thing: It will help keep Apple from taking over the entire Mac OS X app ecosystem and controlling all aspects of it. Plus, it also would give a developer a chance to snag a direct customer, in which case the developer wouldn't have to share a cut of the revenue with Apple. While we're at it, a developer with multiple products has opportunities for additional application sales and awareness to customers that might not be obvious or helpful in the Mac App Store.
Then there's the chance that a developer might gain customer data and have the ability to email the customer in either a marketing or a support capacity. Or enroll the customer in a special incentive program for beta testers.
Last of all, simply having an application in the Mac App Store will help a good many developers in building their reputations. Over the years, I have not purchased dozens of applications and utilities simply because I couldn't learn enough about the developers and the company backing the apps. For the most part, these have been small applications that did something cool or were handy but not 100 percent necessary. I had to figure out if the application was stable, first and foremost, but then I also had to decide if forking over my credit card number, name, phone, email and address was worth the gain. Would my email address starting receiving extra spam? Would my identity information be kept secure? Would it be lost or stolen and sold by a rogue employee or college kid selling identities in an effort to save money to buy a spring break vacation package?
Sure, there's a give-and-take here, but overall, the new Mac App Store will focus on helping a growing legion of Mac consumers find applications that will make their Mac experience better. Apple is just trying to protect that experience while greatly enhancing it at the same time.
All-in-all, I know for a fact that I, as a consumer, will buy more Mac Apps than ever before through Apple's new Mac App Store. It's going to happen, and if it's run smoothly without a bunch of clutter, I'll keep buying.
MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at Gmail.com.