Ryan Block of gdgt.com poses the question of whether the upcoming Mac App Store will have enough software to sustain its relevance for long. He argues that software is increasingly in the cloud, and there isn’t that much software that consumers need to purchase (with the exception of productivity software). Most of the essential Mac apps are either free, or would violate Apple’s strict App Store policies. “The boxed software business didn’t die because of app stores, it died because of an overabundance of great programs that are free, open, or otherwise subsidized that are available through other web or internet services,” he writes. Furthermore, desktop apps are, on average, considerably more expensive than mobile apps, and the consumer software landscape that exists today is nothing like that of mobile apps in 2008 (where distribution was an issue).
If we look at the Mac App Store not as the only, end-all source of Mac software but just as a simple, polished and very good source, the issues he brings up, while certainly being important, will play only a peripheral role in the ultimate success of the Mac App Store. The market that the store will target is the same one as the iTunes App Store — simple and fun apps that just seem to work. All the best free (and even open source) apps will likely be included, as while it’s not part of the profit system, a wide selection of free apps is crucial to a healthy app store ecosystem (VLC, one of the most widely used open source applications, is now available on both the iPhone and the iPad). The kind of apps that will be rejected, the ones that are focused on customizing the system instead of the functionality of the app itself — “the kind of software that gets down and dirty in fixing, changing, or extending stuff in ways Apple doesn’t” — aren’t for the target consumer market. The Mac App Store will be targeted at the mainstream audience whom isn’t interested in getting “down and dirty,” not those of us like Ryan Block (and myself), who won’t depend on the store for getting all of our software. The success of the App Store will be in its mainstream appeal, not in its appeal to power users and others with more specific preferences.
The Mac App Store will also likely be filled with simple, single purpose apps, like many of those for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. This would negate the traditional price difference between desktop and mobile software, as the same way the iTunes App Store is dominated by low-priced apps, the Mac App Store could have many small, widget-like apps for under $5 — “a new class of micro-apps.” Just as the iPhone app store motivated a new generation of developers, the Mac App Store could have the same effect.
Bodega — a Mac App Store that’s been around for over a year — is proof already that there is enough software to sustain a Mac App Store. Bodega does allow a lot of software that Apple will reject, but even discounting those apps there’s a healthy selection. And Bodega is independent — the Mac App Store will already have the advantage of Apple’s considerable influence. One needs look no further than Sparrow to see that paid desktop software is still being developed (the developers have said they will eventually have a free, ad-supported version alongside a paid version).
There’s also games, which should not be discounted. They could easily become a driving force behind the success of the Mac App Store (especially financial success). Steam for Mac proves there’s a significant market for games on the Mac.
The Mac App Store won’t host every great Mac app, but if it aspires to be not the only source but merely one of the best, it should provide a great central source for reliable and consistent Mac software — for many people, the only source needed. And for the rest of us, a place to look with a certain level of quality guaranteed, but not a substitute for the traditional channels of software discovery and distribution that exist already.