Mac App Store thoughts

Posted on Nov 7, 2010 in Mac, Opinions

The long-rumoured Mac App Store has finally been announced and developers have started to post their reactions and opinions. So far, everyone seems cautiously optimistic and despite some concerns and understandable misgivings about handing over 30% of application revenue to Apple, there have only been a few developers who have categorically rejected the Mac App Store.

So how will the Mac App Store really impact developers? The answer depends on what type of developer you’re talking to and what kind of products they sell. These three groups come to mind:

The lone Mac Developer

These guys are going to love the App Store. Until now, they’ve had to take care of their own marketing, sales, licensing, online store, support, etc, all in addition to writing their apps. Being on the App Store won’t magically make these additional jobs go away, but it remove some of pressure to do all of these simultaneously.

Write an app, upload it to the App Store and you’ll be able to start selling it immediately – no credit card handling, license processing, marketing effort required.

Verdict: The App Store is a good thing for independent Mac developers and will allow them to focus on their core development activities.

Mid-sized Software Companies

There aren’t many mid-sized companies out there that focus exclusively on making Macintosh software, but there are more than you might think. OmniGroup, RealMacSoftware, Rogue Amoeba, equinux, Panic… the list is fairly long and has bee steadily growing these last few years. These companies typically make 5-10 software titles and have dedicated staff for design, marketing, sales, support and other activities.

Having dedicated staff to take care of all that stuff allows these companies to push out more products than a lone Mac developer could.

These companies may have previously relied on the traditional base of Mac users, but may have found it difficult to reach the growing number of switchers. These new Mac users don’t read Macworld, have never heard of TUAW and don’t normally buy software for their computer. But these new users have gotten into the habit of purchasing iOS apps from the App Store and are likely to continue that habit in the Mac App Store. So overall, the Mac App Store should allow all developers to reach a far larger potential audience.

The challenge for the mid-sized Mac software makers will be competing for attention alongside hundreds of smaller Mac developers. Brand recognition or positive reviews don’t matter as much in the App Store, where the all-important Top 25 lists dictate discoverability.

Verdict: The App Store will require many mid-sized developers to adjust their marketing and sales strategies. While they have typically mainly marketed their products to traditional Mac users, the App Store has a far greater variety of users that can’t be reached through traditional Macintosh marketing channels.

Software Giants

Only a few of these really spring to mind: Microsoft, Adobe and Filemaker and perhaps one or two other companies with more than 250 people working predominantly on Macintosh software.

These companies are large enough to get by without addressing the Mac App Store juggernaut and quite a few pundits have suggested they will ignore it entirely, as Apple’s policies are too restrictive.

However, I do have to question the reasoning to a certain degree: even if you have the distribution channel, brand recognition and products that your customers need, it still seems to make sense to make it as easy for customers to get your products as possible.

Apple clearly intends to sell iWork through the Mac App Store, so I don’t think Microsoft can afford to risk users ditching Office in favour of Apple’s alternative. I expect to see Microsoft selling standalone versions of all the Office apps on the App Store by next year.

Adobe will most likely not be able to sell their CS Suite of products without giving up their licensing and copy protection schemes. But it’s very likely we’ll see their consumer-orientated apps such as Photoshop Express and Lightroom on the App Store in the near future.

Verdict: Like the mid-sized Mac developers, large developers will have to adapt their sales and marketing strategies to the realities of the App Store. They may choose to ignore it, but given the reach the App Store will presumably have, they may not be able to ignore it for long.

A good thing?

The Mac App Store will finally allow Mac developers to sell their applications to the millions of new Mac switchers that they haven’t been able to reach via the traditional Mac software sales channels. But access to all of those new users will come at a price: The Mac App Store will attract thousands of iOS developers looking to make a quick buck and the App Store makes it fairly difficult for quality apps to get noticed. Any apps that fall outside of Apple’s rules will find it difficult to attract users used to the convenience of 1-click shopping and developers will also need to deal with Apple’s 30% cut and the price pressures that are common in the aggressive App Store market.

But the Mac App Store will get more users buying software, increasing the pie for everyone, which can ultimately only be a good thing.

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