Straddling the Mac App Store Tightrope

Dan Counsell of Realmac talks about life outside the Mac App Store:

It’s been 4 years and throughout all this time we’ve continued to sell RapidWeaver in and out of the Mac App Store. I expected direct sales to trail off as the years went on. I kept thinking it was about to happen… but it never did. In fact, most days the direct version of RapidWeaver continues to outsell the Mac App Store version.

The Mac App Store has been available for over 3 years now. It seems like a lot of users, and app developers, have gone back and forth over whether it’s a good or bad thing. It seems that a certain type of users and developers love it, while another subset hates it. Realmac has been making Mac software for quite a long time. They go back to a pre-iOS era where software was bought in boxes on store shelves, or downloaded directly from the vendor.

The Mac App Store created a new culture for developers. It allowed a one-stop shop for users to find software, and facilitated a race to the bottom where gaming the system combined with cheap prices allowed developers to effectively poison the ecosystem. They lowered expectations to the point where anything but free is looked down upon, and anything more than $1-$2 is sacrilege.

But for old school “power users” the Mac App Store was as much a negative as a positive. Gone were demo/trials, upgrade pricing, total freedom (i.e., sandboxing requirements) and the comfort in knowing that the application would always be available as long as the downloads are saved. After the sandboxing moves pushed certain apps out of the Mac App Store, many power users switch their buying habits back to direct purchase from developers. This habit returns all of the aforementioned things lost through the Mac App Store.

After three years, and heaps of complaining, Apple still hasn’t caved to trial versions or upgrading pricing. With as successful as the current model is, it seems hard to believe that is changing anytime soon (although one would have to assume such a change would increase the popularity of quality software over free alternatives). At the same time, Apple has not given any indication that the Mac App Store will soon be the only option. But they have made the default setting on Macs that in order to use non-MAS apps the user must manually change a security setting. It would not make sense for Apple to push this further because it already basically locks “dumb” users into the Mac App Store, and there is no reason to tempt power/business users to explore other platforms by cutting them off.

The flaws with the current system hurt developers far more than users because if a user wants something bad enough they can still find it. In the long term though, it does hurt users seeking quality software, because at it’s current trend all that will be left are the crappy free alternatives.