Mac App Store Reactions

I thought I’d jump into the fray with what I hope is an uncharacteristically non-ranty reaction.

The Good

One of the most powerful advantages of the iPad is its simplicity. Some of that simplicity comes via the App Store: every app is located, installed/uninstalled, and updated via the same route. There’s no need to manage multiple install processes or installations in a filesystem. Apps are vetted by Apple, which (censorship concerns aside) ensures a certain level of quality, stability, and safety. One has to be that much less of a power user to take advantage of the system. That’s great for users who don’t want to become computer geeks, in the same way that one no longer has to be an auto mechanic to own and operate a car.

The Mac App Store brings that to the Mac. Many users will probably get all their software via the App Store, and it’ll make their lives simpler and easier, giving them more power to customize their computers and less frustration managing them. That’s terrific, and probably where computing needs to go in order to maintain its place in people’s lives while reducing frustration and overhead.

The Bad

The App Store will work best when as many vendors as possible use it. A few things may deter them and/or create headaches for consumers:

  • Are major vendors like Adobe and Microsoft really going to be comfortable giving Apple 30% of their Mac revenue?
  • There is no way to return software to the iOS App store. That’s frustrating but not terrible when you’ve only paid $2.99…but what about when you’ve paid $299? I suppose there’s no reason the app vendor couldn’t process returns, but will Apple give them their $100 back?
  • The Mac has a flourishing community of developers and users, and I believe in part that’s driven by communication between them…in turn fueled by pre-release programs. Passionate users beta-test, report bugs, provide feedback, and serve as advocates. The App Store doesn’t permit this.
  • The App Store also forbids demo software, so farewell to the 30-day free trial. Combined with Apple’s return policy it’s a perfect storm of “buyer beware.”
  • The App Store forbids apps that look similar to existing Apple products. (Technically doesn’t this exclude Firefox, Chrome, Thunderbird, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, most IDEs and text editors, Outlook, and non-QuickTime movie players?)
  • The App store forbids apps that modify existing functionality. To quote TUAW, “Well, that just wiped out 90% of the best Mac apps in a single, flaming fist punch.”

Clearly there are some barriers to adoption. Which will make it tempting for Apple to lock down the platform the way it has with iOS and force developers to distribute through the App Store. I don’t think they will: not only might it alienate developers to lose control over their machines, but I’m not even sure one could develop and debug effectively on a locked-down machine. Maybe I’m wrong there…but it feels like developers might be less effective without full access to their machines. (I suppose Apple could sell a special developer Mac, or provide a sanctioned jailbreak.)

My last concern is somewhat nostalgic. As a kid, I sort of fell into computing. (OK, my Dad teaching me BASIC probably helped.) The transition from user to power user to hacker was an easy one because it was all there for me to mess around with. As we get better at hiding the innards of our computers, we also put up barriers to learning the joy of scripting, coding, and hacking at them. Maybe that’s inevitable. Maybe I feel the way my grandfather does about my generation’s general inability to repair their own cars. Or maybe we just need a new HyperCard.

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