One of Apple's most important initiatives is showing signs of failure

SketchSketchThe dialogue that Sketch users will get, letting them know that its discontinued the Mac App Store version.

Sketch, a popular Mac app that lots of designers actually liked better than Adobe Photoshop, has left the Mac App Store, per a blog entry — just the latest in a string of high-profile departures that should have Apple worried.

The Mac App Store, introduced in January 2011, was designed to bring all the advantages of Apple iOS apps back to the desktop, including easy updates and a simple, unified buying process.

If successful, the Mac App Store would give Apple tighter control over what software can and can’t run on the Mac. Plus, Apple takes a 30% cut of iPhone and iPad apps, and wants a piece of the action on Apple OS X, too.

But it hasn’t really worked out very well. And now, even Sketch, which Apple once gave a design award, and which routinely topped the Mac App Store charts, is going back to selling the software directly from its own website. And it’s not because of the recent Mac App Store glitch that left users without access to their purchased apps.

In a blog entry, Sketch developer Bohemian Coding explains that there are several reasons why it took the app off the Mac App Store:

  1. Technical limitations: Apple imposes strict guidelines on what a Mac app can and can’t do, including hard limits on how much apps can “talk” to each other.
  2. App review: Apple is infamous for taking as long as a week to approve updates to apps, on both iOS and the Mac App Store.
  3. Upgrade pricing: There’s no way for developers like Bohemian Coding to let its customers pay within the app for a new, major update. Instead, they have to release it as a separate app entirely, which confuses customers and limits how many bother to upgrade at all.

On its own, the fact that Mac App Store poster child Sketch would take off would be worrisome.

But back in January, a company called Panic announced that its popular web development tool Coda would be leaving the Mac App Store because it was being held back by Apple’s technical restrictions. Before that, in October 2014, another popular app for developers called BBEdit left the store for similar reasons.

In fact, it seems that Apple actually forces developers to remove parts of their app, just to comply with app store rules.

Worse yet, it seems like developers just aren’t making a lot of money from the Mac App Store. Back in May, developer Sam Soffes revealed that his $4.99 app Redacted, a top-1o app in the Mac App Store, made him only $302 with 94 downloads in the first few days of availability.

Redacted for Mac appiTunesRedacted app for Mac.

The real issue isn’t so much Apple’s 30% cut, because plenty of developers gladly pay that: It’s worth it to have Apple handle hard problems like payments and updates, while also getting the app out in front of more customers.

It’s more that Apple is asking developers to make a lot of compromises, both on the app itself and on control of their relationship with customers, that they don’t have to accept at all if they only choose to publish the app itself.

Meanwhile, on iOS, Apple has control over everything. Developers have long since accepted that Apple controls every facet of the iPhone, from dictating what apps can and can’t do, to that slice of the profits.

So if you’re wondering why Apple might slowly be repositioning iOS as ready to replace a laptop with the release of the iPad Pro, this is probably at least part of the puzzle.

Business Insider has reached out to Apple for comment and will update this post if we hear back.

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