Mac App Store

This week’s Apple announcements are interesting. First, there’s going to be a Mac App Store. Second, we got a nice, although short, preview of the next version of Mac OS X, Lion. And finally, the MacBook Air now comes with a higher-resolution display. But let’s talk about the App Store.

The Mac App Store seems like a good idea to me, at least in principle. As it won’t be the exclusive way to distribute applications, it won’t break other distribution channels. But it’ll make it easier for users to discover and install applications, and both tasks surely deserve improvements. Surely, the App Store rules are going to disqualify a lot of the currently existing applications from being listed, but even for the remaining ones that can be sold according to Apple’s rules, practical problems might arise.

One of those problems is going to be the licensing scheme. Developers are currently responsible for the licensing of their application. Today’s applications generally contain code that check if they have a valid license, which allows the developer to create license terms that are a good fit for its target audience.

With the App Store, the OS itself is going to take care of those licenses. While this is nice, it means that if a developer wants to continue to offer his application outside of the App Store, he’ll need to maintain two different versions: the App Store edition with no license code check, and the regular edition that can be distributed by other means and that requires a serial number or something similar.

Maintaining two versions is not terribly complicated, although it’s a little more hassle. But why would a developer bother about this instead of only publishing on the App Store? One reason is that he’ll probably make more money by selling in his own store. As low as you might find the 30% share Apple takes on App Store sales, selling on your own online store remains a lot cheaper. For instance, if you’re using Kagi, Fastspring, or Esellerate, they will manage your store website, will handle all the payments for you, and will only take a share of about 10%. All you’ve to do is write a serial number generator and integrate a serial number checker in your app. Sure, the App Store will have more robust DRM and list your app in its catalog and be more user-friendly, but is this worth the remaining 20%? If I put an application on the App Store, I might price it higher there than on my online store, as I’ll be able to sell it for less on my store and still make the same amount of money on each purchase.

A second reason for a developer to maintain his own online store is independence. As the iOS App Store has shown, you can never be sure Apple won’t decide to remove an application from their store. What’s more likely to happen though is that the developer might want to add a new feature that Apple doesn’t like. If that happens, likely the feature will make its way in the regular edition of the app, but not in the App Store edition. App Store customers lose again.

So while it makes sense for a developer to sell an app on the Mac App Store, if only for the visibility, it’s not necessarily a good deal for the consumer to purchase it from there. Stricter DRM combined with the possibility that some features were crippled to accommodate Apple’s restrictions and the likelihood of the price being higher; it’s probably best to check the developer store’s first.

There’s one exception however: if you don’t trust the application’s developer, perhaps you’d trust better the Apple-verified version. On the other side, if you don’t trust the developer, would you use its software in the first place?


Joshua Kehn

I’m not sure about the new OS at all, my own thoughts to come later. A Desktop based App store will definitely increase exposure of some applications, but mainline apps (Adobe, TextMate, Firefox, Speed Download, to name a few) have a separate system in place to handle downloads or orders. As you mention having to maintain two store fronts + being taxed more by Apple may make the idea unsavory to developers. The only really thing we can do is wait and see where it goes.

Michel Fortin

Joshua, it’s interesting you mention TextMate, because TextMate has this feature where it can install a command-line tool allowing you to easily open files in TextMate. Would this work with Apple’s rules for the App Store? I have some doubts since for that it needs to install things outside of the application bundle. So if not, would the App Store edition of TextMate be published with this feature removed? And wouldn’t that confuse customers? There’s clearly more to the issue than revenue-sharing and maintaining two editions for the two store fronts.

Joshua Kehn

Michel: I haven’t read the rules, but it’s foreseeable that Apple will attempt to curtail any such applications. The mate command (which I use frequently) is an optional install. I believe it only modifies the PATH in .bash_profile however it could go as far as to place the binary in /usr/local/bin or some similar place. Rejection would in my mind be dependent on how invasive the application is.

Again, I’m not at all sold on either the new OS or the App Store coming to the desktop. I think OS X hit it’s peak for me at 10.6 with the removal of PPC support. It’s getting to the point where I might shuck TM and completely transition to VIM and a refactored Ubuntu desktop. I guess we’ll see in a year.


I think Mac has come up with an awesome program. Many thanks for sharing this with us because this information is really valuable. You have written this article pretty well and I much appreciate your work. It’s surprising that operating systems attitude the capability acquiring license themselves.

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