Apple's much-anticipated Mac App Store has made its debut, promising easy access to new software for customers and exposure to a large customer base for software developers.

To access the Mac App Store, you must download the latest version of Snow Leopard, because access is granted through a system update - Mac OS X 10.6.6, to be exact. We were able to download and install the update on a 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo 15in MacBook Pro using Software Update. The installation required a restart and took a little more than 10 minutes.

The Mac App Store is not a part of iTunes in the way the iOS App Store is. Instead, the OS X 10.6.6 update installs the App Store program (a 7.4MB file) in the Applications folder, and a store icon appears in the Dock; a new App Store selection is also available under the Apple menu. In our opinion, making the Mac App Store separate from iTunes is the right decision, because it separates Mac OS X software from iOS apps; it also prevents iTunes becoming even more cluttered and bloated than it already is.

Navigating the Mac App Store will be familiar to iTunes Store shoppers, because it's designed much like the iTunes Store. One exception: there's no sidebar where iTunes lists your media library, playlists, and so on. Across the top of the Mac App Store window are Back and Forward buttons on the left, and middle buttons for Features, Top Charts, Categories, Purchases, and Updates. The top marquee spot features a rotation of various apps; to the right of that are three smaller marquee spots. Quick Links for your account, redeeming gift cards, and support are under the three small marquee spots.

When you first launch the Mac App Store, the application asks for the iTunes ID you use for iTunes Store purchases and asks for your password. (You can also create new accounts.) Our iTunes account had £5 credit, which the Mac App Store recognised. The rest of your account information looks exactly like the information listing in your iTunes account.

Apple Mac App Store: Installed... or not

Like the iTunes Store, if an app is installed on your Mac, it should be listed as Installed. We say should be because, on one of our Macs, the Mac App Store didn't recognise an installation of Pages '09 (or the rest of iWork '09). We're not sure if this was because of the version we have installed or a registration problem. The Mac App Store did recognise iMovie, iPhoto and GarageBand as installed on the Mac.

We had a similar problem with Evernote. We were using the free version of Evernote 2.0, which was listed as an up-to-date app, but the Mac App Store didn't recognise Evernote as installed. When we clicked to buy Evernote from the Mac App Store, the Store recognised that Evernote was open and told us to quit the app. Once we let the Mac App Store do its thing, Evernote 2.0.1 was listed as installed on the Store. (All Evernote data was preserved.)

Apple Mac App Store: Making a purchase

App product pages are much like the ones you'd find in the iTunes Store. Product pages feature a description; an Information box with version number, file size, requirements and so forth; links to the developer's website; screenshots; and customer ratings.

When we 'bought' Twitter 2.0 (the Twitter client is free), the Mac App Store listed it as Installing, and an animation showed the app's icon floating from the Store to the Dock. Unfortunately, there's no way to tell the Store not to automatically add apps to the Dock, but luckily you can remove them from the Dock easily.

Another vitally important step currently missing is that the Mac App Store doesn't ask for confirmation when you buy an app. When you make a purchase right after launching the Store, you're asked to enter your account password, so that acts as a confirmation; cancelling the password entry cancels the transaction. But if you enter your password and complete that purchase, subsequent purchases are completed once you click the Buy button. So keep the Mac App Store away from click-happy hands.

Next page: Completing the installation, and our verdict >>

See also:

Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard review

Apple A-Z

Visual tour: Apple's greatest hits under Steve Jobs

2011: The year of the desktop app store?

Apple's much-anticipated Mac App Store has made its debut, promising easy access to new software for customers, and exposure to a large customer base for software developers.

After the installation finishes, the Mac App Store will list your newly purchased app as installed. In the case of the Twitter 2.0 download, the app was installed in our Applications folder - there was no way to tell the Mac App Store to install in a different location. We moved several purchased apps from the Applications folder to a different folder, and they all continued to work. You can also install apps bought from the Mac App Store on any Mac that you personally own and use.

When you click on the Purchases button at the top of the Mac App Store window, you see a list of the apps you've bought through the Store. This list is basic, showing only the app, the date of purchase, and its installation status. To get more details about your purchases, you have to go into the iTunes Store. When you click on Purchase History in your iTunes account, you can see a detailed description of your Mac App Store purchase, which includes the amount you paid, the order ID, the date and time, and the item details.

And you don't have to worry if your Mac crashes or hard drive dies - you won't have to pay for them again. Like with iOS App Store apps, if you try to buy an app you've previously bought, the App Store realises this and offers to let you download it again for free.

Apple Mac App Store: Trial and error

One major missing feature is the ability to try software before you buy. For example, Boinx offers a five-day free trial for FotoMagico 3 Home if you download it from the company's website. But there's no free trial version of FotoMagico 3 Home on the Mac App Store - you have to pay £17.49 for the full app.

Also, few product pages include information on demo or trial versions that may be available on the developer's website. We checked more than 30 paid apps that were at least £5, and found just three mentions of demo or trial software. Users need to be savvy enough to venture out of the Mac App Store and go to a developer's website to find demo software.

The Updates section is where you'll find updates to your installed Mac apps. However, it seems that, right now, that section only recognises apps you've bought through the Mac App Store. For example, we're using an old version of BBEdit (version 8.7.2). The latest version is 9.6.2, which is available in the Mac App Store, but it doesn't appear in our Updates section. The Store also doesn't denote BBEdit as installed on our Mac.

There have been reports that it is all too easy to pirate copies of applications bought via the Mac App Store. We took four of the apps we bought (one free, the rest paid-for and all less than £30 each) and copied them to an iMac in our lab that had a different Mac App Store account to see if the apps would still run. The free app and one of the paid apps ran without a problem. The other two paid apps required the Mac App Store account that bought the app to log into the Store in order to run. A login window appears, showing the name of the account that bought the app. When we logged in with a different account, the sign-in box disappeared and the app didn't launch. It would be nice if there was a message that told you that you can't use the app on that computer.

Next page: Our expert verdict >>

See also:

Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard review

Apple A-Z

Visual tour: Apple's greatest hits under Steve Jobs

2011: The year of the desktop app store?

Apple Mac App Store: Specs

  • Apple Mac with Mac OS X 10.6.6 'Snow Leopard'
  • internet access
  • Apple Mac with Mac OS X 10.6.6 'Snow Leopard'
  • internet access

OUR VERDICT

The Apple Mac App Store feels very much like a version 1.0 product – some might even say it feels like a beta. There are interface issues and some mixed results with the Store’s ability to recognise the version of software you currently have installed, so you need to proceed with a careful eye to avoid purchasing an app you already own. Overall, the Mac App Store experience is much like the iTunes Store; it’s easy to navigate, find software, and buy and install new apps – and that’s a good thing. Hopefully, the issues we encountered will be ironed out sooner rather than later.

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