The Sourcerer's Apprentice

The adventures of David Heinemann in IT & software development

Thoughts on the OS X App Store

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The OS X App Store is finally here. If you haven’t heard about it yet, Apple has taken the App Store concept from iOS and applied it to Mac OS X 10.6. The result is that Mac owners can now easily discover and purchase new software through the App Store and keep this software up to date, more or less like a package manager in Linux. As we’ll see, this has some great advantages and some disadvantages too. For the purpose of this review, all references to App Store pricing refer to the Australian version of the store.

Shopping for Software

As a new Mac user, I’m always looking out for new software to try, especially potential alternatives to my existing Windows software. Sites like AlternativeTo are very helpful in finding new software, but the App Store makes it even easier. It provides the usual e-store features such as lists of popular and featured software, application categories, user ratings, and a search function. This makes it very easy to find software you didn’t even know you needed. You can decide whether that’s a good or bad thing.

Unfortunately, there’s a couple of things missing from the App Store that I think would be of great benefit. One is a wishlist, allowing users to keep track of software they plan to buy. Seeing as the iTunes Store has had this for years though, I imagine we’ll soon see it in the App Store too. The other is demo/trial downloads. Practically every OS X developer I’ve seen provides free trials of their apps, and it’d be great to see these easily accessible from the App Store. Whether or not Apple provides this feature in the future, you can still use the official website links on each app page and download any available trials through there.

Problems with Pricing

Perhaps my biggest criticism of the App Store is the pricing inconsistency between software on the App Store and elsewhere on the web. Depending on where you live and the app in question, this can either mean a discount or a price hike. For example, Things, which normally sells for $69.95 AUD costs $59.99 AUD on the App Store, a welcome discount. OmniOutliner Standard, on the other hand, is $40.13 AUD on the official website, but $47.99 AUD on the App Store.

According to OmniGroup, these discrepancies are due to the way App Store pricing works. Rather than setting prices directly, App Store developers can apparently only set a pricing tier for their apps, the exchange rate for which seems to fluctuate quite a bit. OmniGroup’s says there’s only a few cents difference between the prices of their software in the US App Store and prices on their official website. At the time of writing, there’s only 0.1 Cents difference between the Aussie and US Dollar, so I’m having trouble figuring out where the $8 difference comes from. It’s not unusual for boxed Australian software to cost substantially more than its US counterparts, but I would have assumed, for better or for worse, that software sold by digital distribution would have more consistent pricing.

Instant Installation

One of the biggest perks of the App Store is the automatic installation and updating. Installing an application in OS X is already as simple as dragging and dropping a file into the Applications directory, and now you don’t even need to do that. At the press of a button, the App Store will download and install any app you have already purchased, and it will update existing apps just as easily.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the App Store. By making it exceedingly easy to find and purchase new apps and keep them up to date, I can really see the App Store doing for OS X software what Steam has done for PC gaming.