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5 Criticisms of Mac App Store (And Why They're Wrong)

Mac App Store criticisms are shortsighted

The Mac App Store has the potential to breathe new life into the Mac platform. With Mac marketshare rising and there being a growing number of developers with skill in Objective-C from the iOS side of things, the time is definitely right for a centralized, and familiar-looking app delivery model for the Mac. However, since Apple released the Mac App Store guidelines similar to those for iOS, there has been a fair bit of criticism going around. Here are some of the criticisms I've seen and why they're wrong (or at the very least probably shortsighted).

1) The 70/30 Split

The Mac App Store borrows a familiar pricing scheme from the App Store for iOS, giving developers a 70% cut of app sales. On an iOS device, where there is no alternative to the App Store for downloading apps (beyond jailbreaking your device), the 70/30 split has been widely accepted as being fair to developers. On Mac, however, developers have always been free to sell their applications directly to consumers and not have to share their sales revenue with Apple. Why would a developer want to start giving up 30% of their sales?

The App Store will give apps a much higher visibility, presumably boosting sales. Additionally, the terms of the Mac App Store do not, thankfully, disallow developers from selling their apps elsewhere (from their own website, for example). Additionally, there is nothing in the agreement that states you can't sell your app for a lower price elsewhere, so the 30% Apple tax could be potentially subsidized by a higher price on the App Store. Buy an app from the App Store for convenience, to always keep it up to date, or so you don't have to enter your credit card info over and over again at different sites. Or if you're a savvy consumer looking to get the best possible price you could always have the option to buy it straight from the developer.

2) What About Java?

The App Store review guidelines state "apps that use deprecated or optionally installed technologies will be rejected." This essentially outlaws Java apps from the App Store and locks developers into using Objective-C. This comes after the announcement that Apple will be discontinuing its custom ported Java packages for OS X after the current release.

Java apps on Mac are slower and bulkier than their native Objective-C counterparts. They require an additional installation and Apple wants to deliver a Mac App Store experience similar to its iOS brethren, in which stability, security, and UI consistency are highly valued by the review team. Basically, Apple wants to give users of the Mac App Store a certain confidence in quality; for its apps to be as "Mac-like" as possible which is more simply attained by using the native Objective-C. If a developer really wants to distribute their Java app on Mac however, there is still nothing stopping them- though with Apple's deprecation announcement the ball is really in Oracle's court now to keep Java on OS X alive.

3) The Use of Non-public APIs

"Apps that use non-public APIs or include undocumented or hidden features inconsistent with the description of the app will be rejected" Presumably in regards to this section of the agreement, one developer at prolific Mac software house AmbrosiaSW told Informationweek "the restrictions [...] may make it impossible for a number of our applications to be submitted." Some examples may be Ambrosia's video screenshot tool Snapz Pro X, or universal audio recording tool WireTap. In fact, a many of the more "interesting" Mac apps probably rely heavily on the use undocumented APIs.

Apple doesn't make certain APIs public for a reason. Their use is subject to unreliable behavior and could lead to security holes. Apple wants to give users a sense of comfort in knowing apps in the App Store are stable and won't compromise security. Still, a lot of the more hackish Mac apps potentially use undocumented APIs, and no one's arguing they're not cool. They'll always be out there, you just might have to search a little harder.

4) "Objectionable" Content

Once again, Apple is putting their brand of censorship on apps they're willing to sell. You can see why Apple wouldn't want to list porn apps in their App Store, but censorship is always a slippery slope and bound to step on some toes.

What is "objectionable" to some is not to others. Still, Apple is hedging their bets on the fact that the more useful apps shouldn't be offensive to anyone- to which they're probably right. It's highly subjective, and bound to annoy some developers, but ultimately the safer road.

5) "Race to the Bottom" Pricing

Mac apps tend to be more expensive than ones for iOS, of which the majority are either free or under $5. With the added visibility and likely higher sales volume in the Mac market brought on by the App Store, will developers have to drop their prices on Mac apps to stay competitive? On a related note, will we start to see more iOS-developers-gone-Mac bring in more casual mobile-like apps to the platform?

Sure, Mac developers may have to adjust to a more competitive market in which they get a smaller cut than they were used to. But if the Mac App Store is anywhere near as successful as the iOS App Store (proportionally to users), I would expect a huge boon for Mac developers and users alike in the long term.

See also:

Apple iPhone 4 review

Apple iPod Touch (4th generation) review

Apple iPad review

Apple iTunes 10 review


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