by Jim Lynch

When will Apple fix the Mac App Store?

Jan 06, 2016
Consumer ElectronicsMacOS

Apple's iOS App Store brought in $1.1 billion dollars during the Christmas season, but what about the Mac App Store?

The iOS App Store did amazingly well during the Christmas season. According to a press release from Apple, the iOS App Store brought in more than $1.1 billion dollars. That’s no small amount of money, and Apple can certainly take pride in its achievement. App Store developers who profited from Christmas sales are also no doubt very happy indeed.

Here’s more from Apple’s press release about the Christmas success of the iOS App Store:

In the two weeks ending January 3, customers spent over $1.1 billion on apps and in-app purchases, setting back-to-back weekly records for traffic and purchases. January 1, 2016 marked the biggest day in App Store history with customers spending over $144 million. It broke the previous single-day record set just a week earlier on Christmas Day.

“The App Store had a holiday season for the record books. We are excited that our customers downloaded and enjoyed so many incredible apps for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and Apple TV, spending over $20 billion on the App Store last year alone,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “We’re grateful to all the developers who have created the most innovative and exciting apps in the world for our customers. We can’t wait for what’s to come in 2016.”

Worldwide, the App Store has brought in nearly $40 billion for developers since 2008, with over one-third generated in the last year alone.

Largely as a result of the App Store’s success, Apple is now responsible for creating and supporting 1.9 million jobs in the U.S. alone. Nearly three-quarters of those jobs — over 1.4 million — are attributable to the community of app creators, software engineers and entrepreneurs building apps for iOS, as well as non-IT jobs supported directly and indirectly through the app economy.*

More at Apple

Kudos to Apple for its success with the iOS App Store, But as I read through the press release, a question popped into my head: what about the Mac App Store? You remember the Mac, right? It’s that “other” product that Apple makes in addition to iOS devices. Curiously, there was no mention of the Mac App Store at all in Apple’s press release.

The Mac App Store is in deep trouble

You might be wondering why I bring up the Mac App Store at all. Well, if you’ve been following developers, bloggers and other folks who’ve written about the Mac App Store recently, you’d have noticed that they’ve been pointing out many problems with it.

Some developers have abandoned the Mac App Store altogether, and some Mac users rarely bother to even open the App Store application on their Macs (except to get updates from Apple). This does not bode well for the future of the Mac App Store, and it’s quite telling that Apple has kept quiet about the Mac App Store’s Christmas sales.

mac app store dying developer exodus

The Mac App Store languishes as developers leave and users ignore it, while the iOS App Store achieves record breaking sales.

I doubt very much that the Mac App Store had anywhere near the level of success of the iOS App Store. In a sense the Mac App Store has become Apple’s red-headed-step-child, it’s there but Apple seems to prefer to mostly ignore it.

Bloggers and Mac users note the problems with the Mac App Store

You might think I’m exaggerating here, but check out this post from December from the popular Daring Fireball blog about a developer that pulled its software from the Mac App Store:

Deeply troubling indictment of the Mac App Store. Sketch isn’t the first big name professional app to be pulled from the Mac App Store (Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit, Panic’s Coda, Quicken, just to name a few). But Sketch is the poster child for Mac App Store era professional Mac software. It’s the sort of app Apple might demo in a keynote — and the winner of an Apple Design Award. Apple thinks so highly of it that they provide Sketch templates for Apple Watch UI designers. It’s incredibly popular (and was among the top-grossers on the Mac App Store), Mac-only, and they want no part of the Mac App Store.

The Mac App Store should be designed to make developers like Bohemian Coding (and Bare Bones, and Panic, etc.) happy. It should make developing for the Mac better, not worse than selling outside the App Store. These are among the best apps on the platform, from developers who have been loyal to Apple and the Mac for decades.

The Mac App Store is rotting, at least for productivity software. There’s no other way to put it. If this hasn’t set off alarm bells within Apple, something is very wrong.

More at Daring Fireball

John Gruber’s comments are quite telling about the crisis happening on the Mac App Store. And he is not one given much to hyperbole or unreasonable panic over such situations. When he says that the Mac App Store is rotting, he means it and he has good reason to say it in the first place.

And Gruber isn’t alone in his perception of the Mac App Store, another blogger wrote a very detailed analysis about why developers are leaving the Mac App Store back in October 2014:

The Mac App Store was released in January 2011 and it marked the beginning of a great new distribution channel. Even though it lacked some bells and whistles, the developer community was hopeful the problems would be addressed in due course. Unfortunately, it has been years and there’s no evidence that the core issues would be addressed in the future, at all. When notable developers are abandoning your platform, cannot do the right thing for their customers and are delaying their MAS submission, something is very, very broken. I believe that the inaction is harmful to the whole Mac community, affecting consumers and developers alike.

Let me make it absolutely clear why I’m writing this. First and foremost, it’s because I deeply care about the Mac platform and its future, it pains me to see developers abandoning it. The Mac App Store can be so much better, it can sustain businesses and foster an ecosystem that values and rewards innovation and high quality software. But if you talk to developers behind the scenes or explore the Mac App Store, you’ll find something completely different.

The Mac App Store is restricting, in multiple ways, the tools available at developers’ disposal to sustain a business and distribute high-quality apps. It should not be discriminating against tried and true practices that inarguably benefit both consumers and developers – the market should be left to decide that. We cannot know whether, e.g. paid upgrades, are better suited when we do not even have the option to use them.

My ultimate fear is that the complacent state of the Mac App Store would lead to the slow erosion of the Mac indie community. The MAS is the best place to get your software, it comes bundled with your OS, it’s very convenient but when all the issues compound, developers will vote with their feet and continue the slow exodus. I feel that Apple needs to encourage the availability of high quality software rather than quantity over quality – the first step would addressing the core issues that have been known for years. The Mac platform would be a much worse place if we prioritise short-term gains, boasting about the hundreds of thousands of free abandonware rather than concentrate on the long-term fundamentals to sustain a healthy and innovative ecosystem.

More at Helftone

Bloggers aren’t the only ones unhappy with the Mac App Store, the blog post at Hefltone caught the attention of Apple redditors and they weren’t shy about sharing their opinions:

Gilgoomesh: ”Sandboxing is the biggest problem. Without permissions to read/write arbitrary files on disk, install launchd services, use device drivers, huge categories of apps simply cannot work. You don’t have these permissions on iOS but OS X is not iOS and people want full feature sets.”

AlanYx: ”If buying from the Mac App Store wasn’t a requirement for iCloud syncing, I suspect even more developers would probably make a move away from the MAS.”

Emohipster: ”Mac App Store, or as I use it, more aptly named the “update center”.”

Deleted: ”My biggest issue with the Mac App Store is the lack of upgrade pricing. Apple was trying to push developers into cheaper prices, so paid upgrades wouldn’t be a big deal. Some developers bought in, and some didn’t. For those who didn’t, upgrading to new versions sucks, hard. For me, this was mostly an issue for OmniFocus. I’d love to have the App Store version, but there is a huge cost benefit to buying directly from Omni when update time comes around.”

Dichter2012: ”Next version of BBEdit would not be sold in the Mac App Store…Also, the upcoming RapidWeaver 6 will directly sold first before it goes on the Mac App Store. Subtle exodus indeed…”

Gomez12: “I said this days ago and was down voted. The mac app store sucks.

We are told that we shouldn’t use installers and insert admin passwords. But yesterday I needed Java Runtime Environment.. and guess what, it was a .pkg installer that needed my password to continue. That’s a pretty essential piece of software.

Apple basically need to bully developers to put things into the app store, or they should just make it free and not take commission from developers. At least people might use it more and be protected from viruses etc.

Imbo831: ”I was a little worried when Apple first came out with the MAS that it would eventually become the only way to install apps on the platform, just like iOS. Considering they have already shifted from non-sandboxed to sandboxed apps, I still worry that may happen. That is one reason I hesitate to buy a Macbook.”

Solkre: ”Apple would never make that limitation, it would kill the platform.”

More at Reddit

Apple needs to fix the Mac App Store ASAP

It’s clear from the blog posts and user comments on Reddit that Apple has a lot of work to do to bring the Mac App Store back from the brink of destruction. Given the negative feedback from so many users and bloggers, and the slow but steady exodus by developers, the company cannot afford to sit on its rear end and let the Mac App Store deterioriate any more than it has already.

But is Apple listening? Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing. The recent appointment of Phil Schiller as the head of all Apple’s App Stores gives me hope that Tim Cook might have realized the grim situation with the Mac App Store. But only time will tell if Schiller can bring real improvements to Apple’s “other” App Store.

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