Elance Blog

The Mac App Store: What Does It Mean For Developers?


When Apple announced the Mac App Store last October, it received very little fanfare, especially compared to the response the company generally receives from announcements for products like the iPhone and iPad. In order to understand what the Mac App Store does, one simply needs to look at the iOS App Store that Apple’s mobile users have made a runaway success the past two and a half years, with over 350k apps and 10 billion downloads to date.

Virtually identical in design and experience, the Mac App Store allows you to find, purchase, and update your Mac applications from one central location. Many of us receive our entertainment programming (TV, movies, music) on-demand already; it was only a matter of time before software distribution went the same route.

Built-In Advantages
Much like its sibling, the iOS App Store, one of the biggest advantages of the Mac App Store is the ease of use and an interface that is conducive to new application discovery and exploration. It used to be that you would only have a handful of applications developed for a task, and then you were limited to what you found at the local computer store. Now you can spend hours navigating through pages of different apps, sorted by industry, popularity, and reviews, and you’re likely to end up downloading programs you ordinary would have never thought to look for—a huge win for developers who historically had no chance of sharing shelf space with the big boys.

Another advantage that the Mac App Store has over traditional retail purchasing is the ability to track and notify the user when there are new updates available, which greatly reduced the risk of having an outdated (and therefore potentially vulnerable) product. And with hundreds of thousands of applications available for virtually every task imaginable, it’s more than just a luxury to be able to efficiently manage product updates—it’s a necessity nowadays. As a developer, you’ll be able to offer your latest and greatest, and avoid dissatisfaction that comes with outdated product versions.

Apple has created a lot of trust with customers in building an all-encompassing software marketplace. It’s easy for consumers to find their desired apps and to discover new ones every day. Combined with the ease of one-click purchasing, this model of buying applications has become a widely accepted method and will likely continue to see increased adoption with smartphones, tablets, netbooks and desktops alike. This is great news to developers everywhere, as they can rest assured that as long as they build a quality application, they have a very fair chance of finding success and reaching a huge audience.

Closed and In Control
Despite the pros, some are still hesitant to dive head-first in adopting the Mac App Store. Apple has always been known to run a “closed” system where they can be very selective in choosing which apps are allowed entry into their app stores. Applications have been approved into the iOS App Store, only to be removed soon after and developers asked to change their app names and descriptions or modify functionality. Their Terms of Service has long been a topic of controversy among app developers, and so they made sure to release a guide to their Mac App Store ToS, which can be found here.

The big concern is that, with increased adoption of the app store, Apple could force developers into using their App Store for all things Mac-related, and therefore cut off all alternative points of entry—web download, CD, etc. When faced with this ultimatum, are developers going to take their apps elsewhere, or essentially be strong-armed into complying with Apple’s ToS? A lot of very useful applications potentially wouldn’t make the grade, and would effectively limit our options as consumers.

For example, per the current Terms of Service, apps that would be traditionally classified as beta, demo, or trial wouldn’t be granted approval, and this would create a dilemma for consumers. When they are contemplating a high-dollar purchase, they don’t have a trial process available to them, instead having to go into their purchasing decision blind. That may be passable for a $.99 application but it’s guaranteed to produce hesitation as the cost of the app goes up. Developers of these high-dollar applications will likely be just as frustrated, because they realize consumers aren’t going to readily spend their hard earned dollars without experiencing the software first-hand.

Questions For The Future
Shortly after it was released, Apple announced that there were over a thousand free and paid apps available in the Mac App Store, and there are reports from many developers who have seen upward spikes in downloads of their products. As it stands, there’s not much standing in the way of the Mac App Store to generate the same level of success as its iOS counterpart. For developers who have found success on the iOS store, this is simply another extension of the platform, with an additional market of over 100 million OS X users.

But it remains to be seen how far Apple pushes this app store, and whether or not it becomes the official (and therefore only) distribution channel for applications on its OS X operating system. If this becomes reality, will the Mac App Store and similar web stores become the official (and only) storefront for most developers? Perhaps they will agree that the 30% commission and “closed” admission standards are small prices to pay for ease of use and huge distribution potential of the Mac App Store.

As it stands though, developers have a golden opportunity to develop desktop applications for a hugely untapped market, more so now than ever before. Elancers who have found success building mobile applications for iOS (like the guys at Free The Apps!) will likely see new opportunities for jobs in the desktop space as well. Google launched their Chrome Web Store for internet applications a month before Mac App Store, Mozilla has their Open Web Applications system, and even Intel has AppUp, an app store currently targeted to netbook users. While none of these storefronts can offer the same depth of applications in the Mac App Store, the mere fact they exist certainly reflects the changing of the guard from traditional, retail-based distribution to on-demand and digital.