With the release of the Mac App Store, Apple's trying to bring iOS-like changes to the Mac OS X desktop. Is this a good thing? In a lot of ways, yes — here's why.
For a counterpoint, check out why the Mac App Store kind of sucks.
Convenience is Key
The obvious upside of the Mac App Store is the convenience it brings. It's not just an easy way to find good apps and buy them with a single click, but it makes updates and installation incredibly simple. I somehow ended up at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) back in 2006 and attended a session on software installation strategy. The session discussed the three main ways you can install an app on your Mac and the pros and cons of each. With each option discussed, some type of potential user confusion was always a downside. Even the simplest of installations — moving the an app from a disk image to your Applications folder — is something that puzzles a lot of people (especially those switching from Windows). My mum, who is a pretty tech-savvy person, drags apps to the OS X dock from the disk image rather than copying them to her hard drive first. These sorts of things happen because there hasn't been a stupidly simple, streamlined method of installing Mac apps. The Mac App Store brings this convenience, and does the same for app updates. While this might be irrelevant for power users, it's a huge win for the average Mac owner.
A Better Class of Apps
One of the great things about iOS is that it brought many feature-focused, simple-to-use applications to market. Software maturity often brings software bloat, so you end up with sluggish software and tons of features you neither need nor want. While many of the initial offerings in the Mac App Store also exist on the Mac outside the App Store, you can see a hint of iOS apps making their way to the Mac platform. While some apps unquestionably require many features, and there is no paradigm in simplicity, the iOS-style of app will be a very useful addition to the Mac software ecosystem. I've been using Weet (Twitter client) and Reeder (RSS reader) on the Mac for a while now, and they both demonstrate how well simple and lightweight apps can work on the Mac. Too many features and slow performance is frustrating, so a little more iOS in our Mac apps is very welcome.
Copy Protection That Doesn't Suck
I hate DRM/copy protection. I don't think there's anyone who likes it, but it's a reality when it comes to commercial software. Each piece of software uses a different kind of copy protection, too, whether it's online authorisation, a serial number or the devil incarnate: USB authorisation dongles (I'm looking at you, Waves). Some of these authorisation methods are so bad that it's easier to pirate the software. As a result, I pirate software I actually own to save myself the trouble of dealing with authorisation issues (examples: Native Instruments, Final Draft, Adobe).
I'm against all forms of copy protection, but I'm willing to accept Apple's compromise because it's really good. Just like on iOS, you buy an app once and you can install it on any device that you own. With the Mac App Store, any app you buy will run on any computer you own — so long as your Apple ID is the active one on that machine and you've authorised use of the app. This way you don't have to worry about ever deauthorising an app when you get a new machine because you can just install it and it'll work. This also means you don't have to keep track of your serial numbers. I have a piece of software I use (Yojimbo) solely for keeping track of my software licenses, and it's pretty ridiculous that, as a paying customer of software (as in someone who did not steal it), I actually paid more money to help me track the information needed to actually use software I purchased legally. The Mac App Store solves these problems with their version of copy protection, so I'm ready to (begrudgingly) accept it. Maybe more developers with obnoxious copy protection methods will start selling their apps in the Mac App Store and we can all stop worrying about serial numbers, complex authorization methods, and the dreaded USB licence dongles.
Games, Games, Games
I want to love the iPad, but I don't. I do love it as a gaming platform, however, but I often wish I could just play those games on my Mac. Of all the apps making the transition from iOS to Mac, games dominate the category. For example, you can now play iOS favourites like Angry Birds, Chopper 2, Flight Control, and The Incident (which I think works much better with a keyboard, personally). The Mac has never been a serious gaming platform, so casual gaming should be a pretty great fit. Personally, I'm excited to be able to play most of my favourite games on the desktop so I don't have to pull out the iPad just to tackle a quick level on Angry Birds.
Purchase iWork and iLife Apps Individually, and Save Money Overall
If you're interested in the latest iPhoto, you may not be interested in the latest version of GarageBand. You may want Pages but not Keynote. Luckily in the Mac App Store, you can buy iLife and iWork apps individually and spend less doing it. If you buy the iWork suite, you'll pay $129. On the Mac App Store, however, you can get each app for $24 each, saving you $57 if you were to buy all three.
Additionally, I believe the Mac App Store will bring an overall price reduction to software on the Mac. While some apps are always going to be expensive, with apps transitioning over from iOS I think things are going to get more competitive and we'll see price drops like we did with the iPad. Maybe we'll even see hybrid purchase options, letting you buy an iOS and Mac app together (like you can for the iPhone and iPad). This isn't a surefire bet, but with the iTunes App Store bringing so much price competition to iOS it's pretty likely we'll see the same thing happen on the Mac.
The Mac App Store is NOT Part of iTunes
While iTunes has its strengths, it has plenty of weaknesses. It's definitely a piece of software that's succumbed to its maturity, bringing along too many features and slow performance. Fortunately, the Mac App Store is not part of iTunes. You can bring it up right from the Apple menu and easily manage your software. Many thanks go to Apple for making access easy, but keeping yet another feature out of iTunes. The Mac App Store is supposed to make your life easier, and it should since it operates as a standalone application.
Love the Mac App Store? Hate it? Share your thoughts in the comments.