Why The Mac App Store Sucks

Apple launched the Mac App Store today, allowing you to browse, search, read reviews and buy Mac software of all kinds in one streamlined location. And it's terrible. Here's why.

Sure, the Mac App Store is a good idea in theory. Just like the Linux repositories that came before it, it provides a one-stop shop for all your software needs. There's just one big problem: Apple made it.

You'll Have to Re-Purchase Many of Your Apps

One of the biggest questions on everyone's mind is "can I take advantage of the App Store if I've already purchased an app?" The answer is no. Developers have confirmed that there isn't currently a way to migrate your purchases to the App Store for free, so even if an app shows up as "installed" under the Mac App Store, you still won't be able to get updates for it. You'll have to re-purchase an app to get full App Store support. Sure, some developers are trying to work around this, but most are stuck with no easy solution. If you've spent years using Macs and purchasing good commercial software, it's unlikely that you'll be able to take advantage of the App Store anytime soon without shelling out more money — basically, those that use free software are fine, but those that pay to support good developers are doing so with no thanks from Apple.

You Won't Be Able to Test Trial, Demo or Beta Versions of Software

One of the best parts about commercial software is that you are often allowed to try a piece of software for 30 days before buying. That way, you know whether the software is worth your money or not. Furthermore, those of us that like to live on the edge can test out beta versions of software to help the developers find and fix bugs, and in return we get a sneak peek of upcoming features. If you use the Mac App Store to download software, however, you will not benefit from either of these.

One of the restrictions on the Mac App Store is that no pieces of software will allowed to be labelled as "trial", "demo" or "beta" versions. This rule is annoying enough in the iOS store, but it's worse on the Mac. Most mobile apps only run for a few bucks a pop, so if I hear that an app is really good or I think it sounds like something useful, I can usually risk spending $1.19 to try it out. Desktop software tends to be more expensive, though. I don't want to spend $40 just to see if an app is the right one for me — I'd like to be able to try out all its features (meaning no "lite" versions) before buying.

It Will Be Harder to Get Support

Forget that Apple's taking 30 per cent of each developer's pay cheque, but they're also making it harder for developers to give us good support. Before, you could just download an app from a developer, try it out and get support directly from them. Now, though, with Apple as a middleman, the developer doesn't always have as much power to fix problems that arise. They can't release quick updates, since all updates have to be approved by Apple. They can't fix any problems you have with downloading or purchasing an app (that's all on Apple's head). Having Apple in the middle of the developer/customer relationship is just going to muddle things up and make it more difficult for everyone involved.

Apps Will Still Be Heavily Restricted

The other restrictions on apps are just as ridiculous as on iOS, although once again, they have much more weight on the Mac. There's a pretty hefty list of them, that are all going to basically require developers write toned-down versions of their apps, most notably:

No paid upgrades: One of the great ways developers reward long-time users is by offering updates to them at a discounted price. This won't be allowed in the App Store — if a developer wants to have a paid upgrade, they'll have to submit it as a completely separate app, and everyone will have to buy it again at the same price.

No background processes: Apps aren't allowed to keep any code running in the background after they've been quit. So, for example, Apple's own FaceTime has the convenience of staying out of your way until you get a call, but you're going to have to keep any other video chat program fully open and minimised at all times. That doesn't seem fair, does it?

No imitating the UI of other applications-: Apps aren't allowed to imitate other pre-bundled Apple programs. Not only is this something most users want (how many times have you heard someone say they don't like an app because it doesn't "fit in" with other Mac programs?), but it's really vague. Does this mean no Adium, since it often imitates iChat? Where's the line? I can see this being an annoyance (or at least confusing) for both developers and users.

Many Apps Just Plain Won't Make it To the Store

The above are just a few examples of restrictions that will be placed on software inside the App Store. There are, of course, much heavier restrictions that basically eliminate any possibility of some apps getting accepted, like:

No root permissions: No apps are allowed to request root permissions (even with the user's consent), which means no backup software or anything else that needs access to system files.

No programs that download other programs: This is also pretty vague, but does this mean no other browsers? Does this mean no FTP clients, or anything else you could use to share files (like Dropbox)? Or are we just talking about downloading and executing code?

Will we see free and open source software?: This one's just speculation right now, but we saw what almost happened with VLC in the iOS App Store: VideoLan decided Apple's closed-off model might violate the GPL. It doesn't seem there's been a consensus on this yet (and VLC is still in the iOS app store), but developers that really care about software being free (as in speech, not as in beer) may just stay away entirely.

Of course, you aren't required to use the Mac App Store. And you should take advantage of that fact. From the looks of it now, the headache that this is going to cause far outweighs the minor benefits. Sure, it's a one-stop shop for all your software — but honestly, I'll stick to scouring Google if it means I can bypass Apple's walled garden. If half the apps I use won't even end up in the App Store to begin with, then what benefits am I reaping by using it?

What I really fear, though, that the store will have repercussions on us that don't even use it—how many developers do you think are going to code two versions of their apps, just to keep us old-fashioned users reaping the benefits of an free market? I wouldn't wager that many would.

Of course, you all probably have your own opinions, whether you agree with us or not. So share your thoughts with us in the comments!


Comments

    And: You can't change the icons of apps downloaded by the App Store anymore. That sucks big time for me, as I am used to have a consistent look in my dock...

    And why is Apple charging AU customers more than their US customers? And I'm not simply talking about the new Mac App store but the iTunes store as well. Last time I checked, the $AUD was slightly stronger than the $USD. There's no transport costs, etc. for downloading software (indeed, Apple doesn't pay my ISP charges), so what's the deal, Apple? Gouging loyal Mac users like myself (I owned an original Mac back in 1984) is totally shameful. Wake up Apple and smell the roses. This practice is nothing other than blatant profiteering.

    I can't install the update until later... so in the meantime can someone tell me what the payment methods are for the apps? Itunes cards? or credit card? or both?

    I agree with annatar, though unlike iTunes and iPhone app store, you still have a choice ... for now, at least. Why would I pay $99 for Omnifocus on the Mac App Store when I could buy it for ~$79 directly from their website?

    I have to strongly disagree with a lot of your points.

    User are not being abandoned, just because they didn't buy from the App store.
    That is just a MYTH. Show me proof of anyone who can't get updates anymore. Please.
    Look at Pixelmator, for example:
    Much cheaper now, exisiting customers still get the updates via auto update AND if your rebuy now for the much lower price you get the update from 1.x to 2.x for free.
    Great benefit. Great way to transition to the App Store.

    The App Store in fact makes it easier for developers to update, because the Mac App Store updates all your Apps and notifies you.

    Of course you can try software out, you don't have to install from the App Store, you can still download trials from the Web Site.
    OR the developer puts a free trial version in the App Store.
    Just like on iOS. Another bull shit claim, I'm sorry. Outrage for nothing.

    It will be harder to get support? Another wild claim. Why is it? I just don't get your point at all. Wild speculation. And, btw, iOS is the best example:
    Good developers offer good support, bad the opposite.
    Same thing everywhere. I've benfited from good support on all Platforms.
    It has nothing to with how the App is sold, through which channels.

    A lot of your claims about the restrictions are wrong, because they are logical from the concept of the Mac App Store: Root permissions don't belong there, because it is too easy to accidentally download and run software from there. The Mac App Store is supposed to be the lowest denominator: An easy and SAFE way to get Apps in one click. And it is not supposed to be the only way to get software on your Mac.
    So where is the problem? Just download Carbon Copy Cloner from their website.
    'nuff said.

    The worst mistake you made is to make this article a one sided review:
    Why don't you talk about the benefits? For example:
    Much easier way for developers to reach their customers with updates. Mac App Store does the update automatically. All bandwidth cost for download and update are gone. Apple provides that.
    Customers also profit from easier updates and most of the team: cheaper prices.

    Easy beats free. So one effect I think we'll see is price reduction, because more customers buy and less software gets copied illegally, just like on iOS.
    What the Mac App Store also does, in my opinion, is to bring software in the focus of non tech-savy customers. Just like the App Store on iOS does the Mac App Store show people that a computer is defined by the software that runs on it.

    Overall I think the Mac App Store is a great ADDITION to the Mac. There's room for improvement, as with all things, but I'm sure that even now the benefits surpass the flaws.

      Umm..

      So where is the problem? Just download Carbon Copy Cloner from their website.
      ’nuff said.

      Whats the problem with this program? I just downloaded and tried (didnt work the way I wanted however). Was recommended by LH as mac doesnt have a sync back version which is what I liked.

        I''ve purchased a $99 software from Appstore, when they released the new version I would have to pay another $99 to get the "upgrade" through Appstore. I don't think it's nice. I've contacted the app company, they asked me to send the AppStore receipt and they were nice enough to provide me the new software for free (I had bought it in less than 30 days before the new release). Obviously the new software couldn't be delivered through AppStore - I don't care. This has moved me to a decision: I'm not buying anything from AppStore anymore while they won't provide decent upgrade features for apps, .

      - "User are not being abandoned, just because they didn’t buy from the App store.
      That is just a MYTH. Show me proof of anyone who can’t get updates anymore..."

      The point they were trying to make was that the developer would cease producing the application to purchase on their own website in favour of using the Mac App Store thus meaning that users will have to repurchase their already existing applications AND not have the ability to upgrade for cheaper but rather paying again to get the latest software version.

      Using the Pixelmator example you gave, once they've released version 2 and at a later date when version 3 is released you'd have to repurchase the application at full price rather than having the opportunity to pay a small fee to upgrade as you would via their website direct and the users of version 2 wouldnt be notified of an upgrade to version 3 only if they notice a new version in the MAS.

      Older versions (in this example Pixelmator 2) would be removed from the MAS store as the new version 3 is released so as not to confuse new users of the multitude of versions to purchase leaving the latest one only.

      This means users of version 2 wouldn't get any further minor updates via the MAS

      - "Of course you can try software out, you don’t have to install from the App Store, you can still download trials from the Web Site.
      OR the developer puts a free trial version in the App Store.
      Just like on iOS. Another bull shit claim, I’m sorry. Outrage for nothing."

      This is all based on the principle that the developer actually releases a trial copy for you on their website, which may entail making two versions one for the Mac App Store and one for general download, it may not be as simple as you say.

      I've yet to see trial versions of Pixelmator and other applications of interest on the MA Store yet.

      - "It will be harder to get support? Another wild claim. Why is it? I just don’t get your point at all. Wild speculation."

      The developer doesnt have direct access to who purchased the application from the MA Store so its not as simple as if they were direct purchases from the developer and looking at their internal database to see if the user legitimately purchased or not.

      While I agree with the MAS being easier and has the ability to push the developers software out to more people its still limiting to the users who've already purchased the software and wish to buy the software cheaper direct when the currency converts cheaper e.g USD is similar to AUD yet in the MAS software is almost double the cost.

      Also there is no in-app upgrade purchase as mentioned so I dont wish to repurchase the same app for the same price when I could have gotten it at a discount rate for just a simple version upgrade.

      Foo,

      Please help me too understand how I can 'return' an app that was accidentally purchased.

      Thanks

      Pixelmator WILL abandon their loyal customers as soon as 2.0 is out. Only customers buying through Mac App store can acquire Pixelmator in the future. We, license holder of 1.x Pixelmator, will not be able to upgrade unless we accept the new terms of Mac App Store.

      Software developers who are choosing monopoly as vendor strategy is the single most sucking fact of mac app store.

      Not mentioned in the article, but also very annoying with app store is Apple's business model of making money on exchange rates. Visa and Mastercard charge between 1 and 2% for foreign exchange. Apple charge between 10 and 50% depending on market.

    Here's just waiting for the Motorola/Android Atrix system to mature in to a full fledged combined mobile/desktop/webtop/media device - plus versions of the same from other manufacturers...

    Thats the future, Steve Jobs has again become the decline of Apple...

    On my large government proxied/firewalled network, the entire App Store is blocked--completely. Not ever will these firewall rules be amended--they don't want n00bs downloading and installing software. As IT professionals/power users we often need to cater to our peculiar software requirements and generally can visit/download apps from smaller developer websites (as they're not blocked).

    Moral of the story to devs providing apps through the App Store ONLY: you might miss out on potential sales! I for one will look for, install, and buy, a similar app available from your competitor's site...

    Also the downside that is becoming obvious is the fact that the nice FREE little apps - like e.g. Growl are getting price tags on MAS.

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