This weekend, Ryan Block put up an interesting post on gdgt entitled: Will the Mac App Store have enough to sell? He raises a number of good points for why Apple may not be able to replicate their current App Store success with this new desktop store. But I’m left wondering if the store won’t lead to a new class of app: a sort of micro-app for the desktop.
Block makes the following points: a) high-end software like Photoshop won’t be placed in this store because Adobe won’t want to give Apple a 30 percent cut of all sales. b) most paid desktop software is dead or dying due to free replacements on the web. c) Apple’s strict rules will prevent developers from using this new store for test or demo software. I agree with all of those points. And that’s why I’m wondering if this store won’t instead lead to this new type of app environment.
While Apple’s brief demo at their event last week and their website teaser page indicate they intend this Mac App Store to be used to distribute full Mac apps, such as the ones they make like Pages, iPhoto, iMovie, etc, I think it’s possible that popular apps in this new store may be more akin to Mac Dashboard widgets.
Here’s what I’m thinking: one of the most popular apps since the inception of the iPhone App Store has been Pandora. Pandora obviously works through the web browser, but plenty of people would be into a small app that sits somewhere on your desktop running in the background. How do I know? Because Pandora actually already makes such an app — but it runs on AIR and you need a Pandora One premium account to use it. What if Pandora made a free ad-supported Pandora Mac app? Or a paid version (maybe $5 or $10) that gives you premium features? A lot of people would want such an app.
What about a Mac desktop Twitter client? Many of the most popular ones right now also run on AIR (TweetDeck) or Silverlight (Seesmic). Hugely popular native Mac apps exist, such as Tweetie for Mac, but since Twitter bought that client, they haven’t committed to continuing development on it (though it is supposedly being worked on on the side). People would pay a small amount for a great one of these as well.
But a real opportunity may exist in small apps that don’t just fully mimic popular web apps, but instead extend upon them. Imagine a Facebook app, for example, that offered a great photo upload and viewing experience? Again, this is sort of the idea Apple seemed to originally have with their Desktop Widgets, but those never really took off. One reason, undoubtedly, is that distribution was lacking, and developers had no way to make money from them. The Mac App Store solves both of those issues.
And this store may give rise to a whole new crop of small apps that otherwise might get lost in the sea of web apps — or not exist at all. You could certainly make the case that great new services like Instagram would have never existed without the iPhone App Store. Perhaps the Mac App Store will lead to developers creating new experiences and a new crop of apps as well.
And then of course there are games. While traditional game makers may hold off on Mac App Store games since they’d obviously prefer to make 100 percent of their revenue instead of the 70/30 split with Apple, plenty of micro-game makers will pop-up to take advantage of the Mac App Store’s distribution. Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, etc. We’re going to see them all. And they’re going to be huge.
I’d also argue that part of the impetus behind the Mac App Store is also to kill off optical drives, so that Apple can make machines more like their slick new MacBook Air. Every app you buy through the Mac App Store is downloaded and installed directly over the web. And you can install them again on a new machine when you upgrade. No CDs/DVDs needed.
Another point, of course, is to simplify the application buying experience for users. While plenty of software is available to buy and download over the Internet right now, the process is scattered and generally poor. The Mac App Store will change that. A lot of users and developers will welcome this.
Of course, such a unification attempt will have people scared to death that this means Apple will eventually kill off app installation on the Mac outside of this store. But that won’t happen — even Apple isn’t that bold. The shitstorm and backlash they would face from Mac users if they were to do this would be massive. Apple is a lot of things, but they’re not stupid. You’ll still have the option to install your own apps the old way.
Yes, you can’t install apps on the iPhone outside of the App Store, but you never could. Since the dawn of the Mac that hasn’t be the rule. Even if they wanted to, it’s too late for Apple to change that — at least directly.
Instead, computers like the iPhone and iPad that have this new distribution model will eventually far outnumber Macs — based on recent sales, they already might.
Apple has said that they’d like to get the first version of this Mac App Store out there in 90-days. They’ll undoubtedly have a range of third-party developers on board for the launch. But it will be shortly after that when we’ll begin to see exactly how this new distribution model will be used. And I suspect a lot of $5 micro-apps and small games may end up being the apps that drive the store.