Following Up On: ‘The Mac App Store’s Future of Irrelevance’

Marco Arment follows up on his post from earlier about the Mac App Store, clarifying 1 :

Geeks aren’t the only people who have the problems that these apps solve, and we’re not the only people who can figure out how to find, buy, and use these tools. Give the rest of the computer-owning world some credit.

This isn’t about a few geeks being inconvenienced. It’s about a very large number of Mac users, far beyond geeks, being discouraged from buying (or being unable to buy) the software they need from the Mac App Store, and why that’s not in Apple’s best long-term interests.

Again, I disagree. Arment undoubtedly knows more about the intricacies of Apple’s App Store, but I simply don’t buy this argument. In my last post I misconstrued Arment’s post as him giving up on the Mac App Store, and I also pegged this as a “geek” problem. While I am wrong about those two issues, I still don’t believe there is a risk of the Mac App Store becoming a wasteland of any sort.

Arment is right about non-geeks being able to easily find and purchase apps outside of the Mac App Store — it’s how software has traditionally been purchased, well once software started being sold as digital downloads — but here I really think Arment and I disagree is on his last sentence that I quoted above, again:

It’s about a very large number of Mac users, far beyond geeks, being discouraged from buying (or being unable to buy) the software they need from the Mac App Store, and why that’s not in Apple’s best long-term interests.

I don’t disagree with the notion that there are problems with the Mac App Store, but how exactly are users being “discouraged from buying” apps in the Mac App Store? I am guessing that this comment is related to Arment’s earlier statement:

My argument was more nuanced: many previously-acceptable apps have been effectively kicked out of the App Store because they’re incompatible with the current implementation of sandboxing, and this hurts the customers of those apps enough that they will lose confidence in buying nontrivial software from the Store in the future.

To clarify this in my own head, I do a bit of role playing. Let’s say there’s an app I love called iBanana. iBanana uses some hack-y stuff that Apple hates and that prevents it from being sandboxed, so they are forced out of the app store. But I bought iBanana in the app store, now I don’t get new updates and am forced to (likely) re-buy the app.

This is likely the most discouragement that I will see from buying other apps in the app store (I am assuming no developer is ridiculous enough to petition customers to boycott the Mac App Store).

I am guessing the thinking is that when I go to buy another app, I stop and remember the iBanana fiasco, go to the developers website and buy from there — thus leaving crappy apps in the store. That makes sense, but I have two issues with this thinking that — in my mind — make it a trivial issue.

Not a Recurring Event

The big problem is that Apple changed their mind about what was allowed in the app store, they forced out apps because they wanted/needed/whatever reason to implement sandboxing. Such a change is not likely to occur again, so while apps had to recently leave the store — it’s not likely to be a regular occurrence for Mac App Store customers.

It sucks this time around and current Mac App Store customers might have a bad taste in their mouths, but all will be forgotten in time — assuming Apple doesn’t pull crap like this on a regular basis, or really, ever again.

That is, I don’t expect us to be regularly talking about apps that have been “forced out” of the app store by rule changes.

I do, however, agree that if Apple continues down such a path of constant rule changing and forcing out apps — that at that point geeks should begin petitioning users not to buy from the Mac App Store. But I don’t think that is where we are now. What we are seeing right now is the side effect of launching a platform before it should be, and moving that platform to where Apple wants it.

Mac OS X Petitions You to Use the Mac App Store

System Preference panel for app warnings.

With Mountain Lion, Apple set the OS to warn users if the app is not from a trusted developer or the Mac App Store. That’s the default setting, with users having to navigate to System Preferences to change this.   

So whenever a user opts out of the app store, downloads an app from an “unknown” developer they see this warning:

The warning dialog for SpiderOak — a “untrusted” Mac app.

That dialog is Apple’s way of telling all of its users — by default — that they should be wary about installing such apps, when most of the time they really don’t need to be wary. I can see why Apple did this, and it’s likely not primarily to promote the Mac App Store, but to combat malware and such.

At the same time, it hurts developers who aren’t in the Mac App Store because now a user has to pause and think: “do I trust this person?” Ouch. Then again, installing software from the web has always been a bit like the wild west, so maybe one question won’t hurt. But I have to think that it does stop today’s youth in their tracks — you know those that don’t remember scanning their PC every hour and finding new viruses on it.

Going Forward

The reality is that Apple’s Mac App Store, as devised, (as a clone of the iOS App Store) in OS X is a rather big mess. However if I have to choose as to whether this dies the slow death of Ping, or is constantly pushed until it’s the default, well I think the latter is the likely case and I don’t see that as being a very big leap from where Apple currently is.

Arment is right, it’s not just a “geek problem” as I inappropriately labeled it. It is an Apple problem, but it’s also a developer’s problem. Here’s the thing though, I don’t see Apple giving in on this and I certainly don’t see Mac developers “jumping ship” over this.

That leaves developers with the issue of having to get customers to trust them enough to run their software, even though their OS is telling them to be wary.

Post Script on ‘Casual Apps’

Neven Mrgan argues:

And the Mac App Store, in its current incarnation, just isn’t built for us. It’s built for people looking for casual apps and games. (Sorry, there’s one more category: Apple’s own apps, which don’t have to play by Apple’s rules.)

I don’t see that as being the case either, because if 1Password can find a way to stay in the store and Adobe can ship Lightroom to it I think it stands to reason that solid, powerful apps can and will always be a part of the Mac App Store.

  1. I don’t think this is a direct response to my post.
Originally posted for members on: July 26, 2012
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