It’s less than a week into the New Year and Apple has served up a tasty software update bringing the much anticipated ‘App Store’ to the Mac desktop, heralding 2011 as a year that will shake up the software industry. OK, so perhaps that’s what Apple hopes it will do, but it’s already clear that the App Store is good news for software consumers and has the potential to be lucrative for software developers too.
Downloading software isn’t exactly a new idea, and by now we’re all familiar with the concept of trying and buying apps on our iDevices, so what’s the big deal I hear you cry? Integration for starters. Then there’s familiarity, simplicity, value and of course – potential.
Unlike some, I’m not really that surprised that the App Store wasn’t integrated into iTunes, and it appears as a separate stand-alone application that quite simply does what it says on the tin – it lets you browse, buy and install apps – and is seamlessly integrated into the OS just as you would expect an Apple application should be. Browsing apps is a familiar process, with genre categories, star ratings and top paid or free titles just like in iTunes or on your iDevice. The purchasing process is extremely straightforward – having chosen to upgrade to iPhoto ’11 for the paltry sum of £9, I clicked ‘buy’ at which point a slick animation added an iPhoto download icon complete with progress bar from the App Store into my dock. Once the (somewhat lengthy) 700Mb download had completed and the progress bar was full, the extra icon disappeared from my dock, and my original iPhoto icon bounced. As Steve himself might put it – “boom, it’s done!”. Simple.
One of the first things that struck me about the App Store though were the prices. As well as being able to grab Apple iLife ’11 stalwarts iPhoto, iMovie and Garageband for only £9 each, the superb Aperture 3 has shrunk from £173 for a boxed copy to less than £45 for the download. That’s amazing value, and promises to save a few trees into the bargain I’m sure. Why would you want to wait for a box to ship or even go into an Apple Retail Store to buy software ever again?
OK, so not everything is on the App Store (yet). There are some fairly obvious omissions, and I still wonder if large media-rich packages like Final Cut Studio will ever be available – not unless they are re-packaged or next-generation broadband becomes universally available (and reliable) in my humble opinion. Whilst still on the subject of value for money, I won’t mention how Photoshop is actually more expensive to have a box shipped than it is to download (what’s with that?) and that Lightroom costs an awful lot more than Aperture. Oops, I think I just mentioned it…
The biggest thing that hit me though was the sheer, almost limitless potential of the App Store. I’m guessing lots of Mac (and indeed PC) users never venture far from the applications that came bundled with their computers, except perhaps for the odd heavyweight package or two – I’m thinking of you Office and Creative Suite – and the occasional specialised utility. The beauty of the App Store is that it makes an increasingly varied selection of applications available right there on your desktop, sorted by genre and rated by other users. It’s easy to stumble upon applications you never even knew existed, and perhaps discover new tools that might make your daily Mac life that little bit more efficient, enjoyable or even profitable.
It’s an integral part of the OS, and using it to buy software is so easy my 3yr old daughter could just about manage it. Crucially though, it’s an integral part of the OS, and using it to sell software is so easy I could just about manage it. If you’ve got a great idea for an app, have a bit of programming knowledge, some spare time and enough money to join the Apple Developer Program, there’s nothing stopping you from showcasing your application to potentially every Mac user on the planet – of course if your app’s no good, no-one will buy it and you won’t become rich overnight. Ultimately though, the App Store connects software developers directly to software users, which is a good thing, and a very big deal.
Of course, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a Mac user yourself, and you’ve probably upgraded to 10.6.6 and downloaded and installed a few apps yourself already. You probably have your own opinions on what’s good and what’s bad about the App Store too – do share in the comments below. Maybe you’re even wondering what apps are missing and hatching plans to develop your own, but it’s probably best you keep that to yourself.
I know I am…..