Apple developers cautiously eye Mac App Store
One of the more interesting tech debuts this week won't happen at the Consumer Electronics Show. Instead, it will take place Thursday on the screens of Macs running the Snow Leopard release of Mac OS X: the launch of the new Mac App Store that Apple announced in October.
This equivalent of the iPhone and iPad's App Store is supposed to offer the same convenient browsing, buying, installing and updating for users. Developers, in turn, keep 70 percent of an app's sale price, with Apple handing all of the billing.
But, just as on Apple's mobile devices, developers will have to play by Apple's rules to get into the Mac App Store. And the Cupertino, Calif., company has rejected or removed numerous iPhone, iPod touch and iPad applications for reasons that seem illogical, unfair or both.
More recent moves to document the App Store's review guidelines and set up an appeals process haven't changed the store's basic principle: Apple can reject an application if it wants to.
Does that represent a fair deal for Mac developers? I've been discussing the App Store with four of them.
Wil Shipley, chief executive of Delicious Monster in San Francisco, was the most enthusiastic among them. He e-mailed that he submitted his company's Delicious Library media-cataloguing app "about a week after Apple first announced the store" and had to revise it three times before getting an approval around Dec. 22.
The major change required was removing a function that relied on a "private," undocumented Mac OS X application programming interface -- something Apple's rules prohibit.
Shipley called that a fairness issue in an e-mail in October: "Virtually all of Apple's applications on the Mac and on iOS use undocumented APIs, and they are creating an uneven playing field by denying lots of extra functionality to third-party developers."
Earlier this week, he also noted that the App Store might be more attractive to people who don't want to pay for apps: "They are going to use one form of encryption on ALL applications they sell, so there's a HUGE incentive for hackers to figure out Apple's system."
But Shipley described the App Store overall as "95% a great thing" for its ability to expose developers -- in particular, new ones -- to potential customers.
One veteran Mac shareware developer, Thorsten Lemke, sounded slightly less excited about the App Store. Lemke, the Peine, Germany,-based author of the GraphicConverter program, also had to submit his application three times before winning an approval last week.
In October, he thought he could just disable the program's licensing and auto-update features, as well as support for some older scanners. But he wound up having to remove the updating component entirely.
Lemke described the App Store's revenue split as a mixed benefit. The third-party payment systems he's used before only take eight to nine percent. On the other hand, "Apple has a big name," and many customers will find it easy to focus on one place for their app searches.
A third developer, Paul Kafasis, is avoiding the App Store for now. His firm, Cambridge, Mass.,-based Rogue Amoeba, ships audio and video utilities that rely heavily on the private APIs forbidden by the Store.
"Much of our software is unlikely to be accepted at all, at least baring massive changes and feature cuts," he wrote in late December. "For now, we'd prefer to spend our time improving our apps, instead of neutering them for the App Store."
A fourth, Panic Inc. co-founder Cabel Sasser, didn't want to judge the App Store in late October. The Portland, Ore., developer e-mailed that "we're avoiding comment on the store until we see how everything shakes out. It might be a little too early to make a call." He hasn't yet replied to a follow-up e-mail sent Monday.
To me, the most important feature of the Mac App Store is that it's not required for all new software. Although Apple is closing the downloads site it has promoted with a "Mac OS X Software" item under OS X's system-wide Apple-icon menu, it shows no signs of making the App Store the only way to add software to a Mac.
But if a choice between an easy-but-curated app store and a wide-open, less-convenient selection of software is good on a Mac, why is that unacceptable on the iPhone? I leave that for you to mull over in the comments.
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