Apple announced today that its Mac App Store will launch on Jan. 6, 2011.
But as is typically the case when Apple releases new products, there are still more questions than answers.
The Mac App Store will probably be a hit, as it will make app-buying easier, safer, and could bring many new developers and apps to the Mac platform.
But in the meantime, we have many questions about how the Mac App Store will shape up.
Instapaper developer Marco Arment makes a great point in a post, 'The Mac App Store isn't for today's Mac developers.'
While some of today's Mac apps may make their way into the Mac App Store, it's mostly going to be a tool for new Mac apps.
And probably, for new Mac developers -- many of whom, perhaps, will be coming over from the iPhone App platform.
Because software companies exist to sell software, it makes sense for Microsoft and Adobe to at least sell the most basic versions of their software in Apple's Mac App Store, such as Microsoft Office Home Edition, and Adobe Photoshop Elements. (Probably not the premium editions of Adobe Creative Suite, though, which are much more expensive and more complicated.)
But it may be trickier -- and therefore, take longer -- than it seems. That's because Apple requires that app updates exclusively go through the Mac App Store, and not through the developers' traditional software update channels. (Microsoft and Adobe each has its own updating engine.)
The Mac has long been slammed for its terrible collection of games. During the early 1990s, when all our friends were playing cool shoot-'em-ups on their PCs, it seems like all we had was SimCity, SimAnt, SimEarth, and SimTower.
Now that a lot of hardcore gaming has moved to consoles, we don't expect any sort of Mac gaming renaissance. But the iPhone and iPod touch have been HUGE hits for casual gaming. Might some of those hit games, like 'Angry Birds' make it over to the Mac?
For one, the developers behind the huge-hit iPhone game 'Flight Control' have already pledged they're working on Flight Control for Mac.
Who's to follow? iPhone gaming studios like Tapulous and Ngmoco? (Both now acquired by bigger media companies.) Smule? Big gaming studios like EA or Activision?
Will developers be able to sell the same app through traditional channels? Or only through the App Store?
Will a developer be able to sell the same exact app -- with some tweaks to the app's infrastructure needs, for things like app updates -- through other sales channels? (Such as direct online sales, other App Stores, brick-and-mortar, etc.) Or will Apple require that App Store titles only be sold through the App Store?
If they can sell apps through other channels, could they offer them at different prices? Or only the same price as they charge in Apple's App Store? (Recall that Apple takes a 30% cut from App Store sales.)
In mid November, the last time we calculated, the average top-25 paid iPhone app cost $1.27. The average top-25 paid iPad app cost $5.71.
How much will Mac apps cost?
There will probably be many 'bubble gum' Mac apps in the App Store that will cost 99 cents. And there will probably be many sophisticated productivity apps that cost $25, $50, or more. (Such as Apple's iWork suite, which is very popular on the iPad.) An Apple mock-up suggests pricing in the $15 to $20 range for some Mac apps.
So an average top-25 paid Mac apps stat around $5 to $10 wouldn't surprise us.
For now, it appears the answer to this question is 'no.' But we expect Apple to support in-app purchases before long.
Apple's in-app purchases program has allowed free apps to become paid apps with in-app virtual goods purchases, in-app upgrades from 'lite' to 'full' versions, and other revenue streams.
'There's an app for that' is a tired cliché phrase now, but only because Apple spent millions of dollars advertising the heck out of iPhone apps on TV for months. (That's one of Apple's excuses for taking a 30% cut from app sales.)
So will it do the same for Mac apps?
Many third-party Mac apps have long included 'upgrade' pricing for major updates. This allows developers to collect some additional revenue from long-term users upgrading to a new version, but not as much as they charge first-time buyers for the 'full' version.
But paid upgrades are not a feature of the iOS App Store -- only free upgrades. (And Apple doesn't often use the upgrade pricing model for its Mac software.) So it doesn't seem like something Apple will support for the Mac App Store.
To get paid again for major new versions of your iPhone app, you have to make an entirely new app, and then you have to advertise it to existing users. It's not impossible -- Tweetie 2 became quite popular -- but it's rare. It sounds like this is what Mac App Store developers would have to do, too.
Related question: If an existing customer of an app from pre-existing sales channels wants to switch to the new, App Store version, could they do that for an 'upgrade' fee? Or for free? Or do they have to buy it all over again?
Many popular Mac apps have made tweaks to the standard Mac OS X user interface (UI). When Apple is reviewing and approving apps, how strict will it be about keeping the standard Mac user interface?
According to leaked Mac App Store requirements, Apple says:
6.1 Apps must comply with all terms and conditions explained in the Apple Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines
6.2 Apps that look similar to Apple Products or apps bundled on the Mac, including the Finder, iChat, iTunes, and Dashboard, will be rejected
6.3 Apps that do not use system provided items, such as buttons and icons, correctly and as described in the Apple Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines will be rejected
6.4 Apple and our customers place a high value on simple, refined, creative, well thought through interfaces. They take more work but are worth it. Apple sets a high bar. If your user interface is complex or less than very good it may be rejected
6.5 Apps that change the native user interface elements or behaviours of Mac OS X will be rejected
Right now, when a company has a lot of Macs that it owns, the IT department is typically in charge of running file servers, installing apps on computers, keeping them up to date, etc.
If Apple lets companies set up their own internal Mac App Stores -- the way it's letting companies run their own sort-of iPhone App Stores -- it's possible that could be the way companies let employees install software, update it, etc.
But there may be more infrastructure necessary before this is a possibility -- we're just guessing.
Free, ad-supported apps are popular in the iPhone App Store, where app customers tend to be cheapskates.
Will they also be popular in the Mac App Store? There are some ad-supported Mac apps today, but not many.
If so, who will sell the ads? Apple's iAd division, which just expanded to the iPad? Other mobile ad companies, like Millennial and Jumptap? Or regular-old desktop Internet ad networks, like Google?
It's nice to have a mailing list to contact when there's an app update, or another app from the same developer, or any other sort of announcement. ('Hey, we've been bought by Google!')
Will Apple hand off any sort of purchasers' contact info to developers? Or allow any sort of 'Register!' form? Or are they in the dark about who's buying their products?
Apple is good about extending discounts to educational customers -- such as teachers and college students -- on its hardware and software. Will the App Store allow for education discounts?
Given the popularity of MacBooks on college campuses, this seems like a good idea. But Apple may avoid it to keep the App Store pricing super-simple.
Steve Jobs himself probably doesn't even know the answer to this question.
It's unlikely for a long time, because there will still be many important Mac apps that can't be distributed via the App Store.
But someday, eventually, a long time down the road... anything's possible. If Apple could have complete control over the Mac app distribution channel, without ruining the ecosystem, that seems like something it would want.
Apple is primarily a hardware company -- that's where the vast majority of its revenue and profits come from. Apple has great software (and mostly good services), like iTunes, OS X, MobileMe, and the App Store, but mostly to help it sell more hardware.
So will the Mac App Store sell more Macs? Probably. But how many?
It's hard to argue that Apple would have sold as many iPhones as it has if it hadn't launched the iPhone App Store. It's what has set the iPhone apart from its rivals the most. (Though they are catching up in that regard, especially Google Android.) Same goes for the iPad.
So it makes sense that the same infrastructure -- to make developing and selling Mac apps easier and better -- could help increase Mac sales, too.
The old argument used to be that Macs didn't have any apps, and that PCs had all the apps. Now it may soon be that Macs have lots of great apps that PCs don't have, and a much better and safer app purchasing system. Add that to the fact that web apps are starting to replace some desktop apps, and all of a sudden, many PC buyers have another reason to consider a Mac instead of just a cheap Dell.
It's hard to predict how much of an impact this will have on Mac sales, though. It may be modest, or moderate, or even large. It may force Microsoft to start a Windows App Store, the way other mobile platforms have copied Apple.
But, most importantly, it may help Apple steal more market share from Windows in the PC market. And that's what this is all about.
Many of these questions were inspired or influenced by a popular Apple-nerd podcast called 'The Talk Show,' which recently hosted an episode about the Mac App Store, featuring guest developers Marco Arment of Instapaper and Craig Hockenberry of The Iconfactory.
If you're into this stuff, you should check it out here.
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