First look: Inside Apple's Mac App Store

As promised here, here's a brief first-look at the Mac App Store. Super-fast and really easy to navigate, the Mac App Store is going to generate huge wads of cash for everyone involved, Apple and its partners -- but I do worry that app navigation and developer access to the Mac platform may suffer.

Getting started

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Once you install Mac OS X 10.6.6 you will have access to the Mac App Store App. The store automatically populates an icon in your Dock, just beside the Finder -- you can move this if you choose to do so. App Store is an application (7.4MB), which means you'll also find it inside your Applications folder, just like any other App.

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Launch the store and you'll be presented with a remarkably iTunes-like user interface, complete with a series of highlighted Apps in different categories: top free, paid and grossing Apps are all listed. You have the usual Staff Favourites and so on.

What's inside?

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There's over a thousand Apps, including iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand from iLife 11, Aperture, Autodesk SketchBook Pro, Twitter, TextWrangler and many more.

Not available (yet) is iWork 11. The selection also includes the remarkably addictive Angry Birds.

The system is intelligent. You'll see that Apps you already have installed are noted as "Installed", just like Apps on your iPad or iPhone (See image above).

(Some readers are reporting problems -- specifically an 100 error message -- when they try to download Apps. Restart your Mac, or re-boot iTunes and the problem should be solved. You may be required to approve a new set of terms and conditions).

Getting around

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At the top of the screen you see navigation items including: Featured, Top Charts, Categories, Purchases and Updates. The latter lets you check if any of your Apps need updating, while the Purchases tab (which requires you Sign in) will let you view your previous purchases. I've not yet tested this, but I'm hoping this will also let you download previously purchased software to your other Macs -- hurrah -- no more software discs.

There's also a search tool and back and forward buttons here.

Available Categories include:

  • Business
  • Developer Tools
  • Education
  • Entertainment
  • Finance
  • Games
  • Graphics & Design
  • Health & Fitness
  • Lifestyle
  • Medical
  • Music
  • News
  • Photography
  • Productivity
  • Reference
  • Social Networking
  • Sports
  • Travel
  • Utilities
  • Video
  • Weather

Surprise, surprise

There's some stunning surprises too: Take Aperture, in the UK (where I am) you can purchase this from the App Store for just £44.99 -- this is a product that costs £173 via the Apple Store here. The software appears complete, and at that kind of price it's a no-brainer for anyone who wants to get the best out of their photographs.

This will seriously impact Photopshop and Lightroom sales.

(Notice, too, that Photoshop isn't available via the store....further evidence of the rift between Apple and Adobe). Apple Remote Desktop is also incredibly cheap.

Purchasing is sexy

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Software purchasing now. I love Angry Birds but have it on my iPad, so I decided to purchase and download the latest version of iPhoto, which I hadn't installed yet. As you can see, when you visit the page of a specific App you are presented with a large colorful full-screen description plus images.

What happened when I made a purchase?

  1. I had to sign-in with my Apple ID.
  2. I had to approve new Terms and Conditions (this step has caused some problems for some users, see above). These seemingly relate to Ping (see image below).
  3. Look carefully -- if you're lucky you'll see an icon 'woosh' across from the App Store to your Dock -- this is the logo for the App you're installing (in my case, iPhoto) automatically populating your Dock, along with a progress bar to show you how the process is going.
  4. At 687MB, the iPhoto purchase took some time -- but even with the heavy traffic likely being experienced by Apple's App Store servers, the process was very swift indeed.
  5. App downloaded, just click the icon and -- in the words of a certain tech industry titan -- boom, the app launches and off you go.
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I also purchased and installed Chopper 2, available at an 80 percent discount at present. This is a flying game you can control with your iPhone. I'll be taking an interest in implementations such as this, while I wait for the Apple TV to gain support for such things....

Criticisms?

I am concerned that as thousands more apps join the thousand here now, navigation will be a problem. I am also concerned that as the store becomes the de rigeur way in which you download software for your Mac, Apple will indeed gain a position in which it can decide what you can run on your platform. Given that I have problems with how the App Store approvals team makes its decisions, this is an element I think worth watching.

A note on pricing (UK specific)

The store could turn out cheaper for buyers outside of the US than traditional channels. This is because Apple's prices include VAT, whereas most other sales channels for independent apps will charge VAT on top. It is also because Apple's tier model of pricing means exchange rates have been frozen since the iTunes Store first shipped.

Conclusion

The store is also going to divide the Mac software industry -- perhaps the biggest question, for the moment, is if Adobe intends joining the Mac App Store gold rush.

With Aperture on sale at such a low price and a plethora of powerful image editing features available within OS X itself, will this impact Photoshop sales?

Super-fast and really easy to navigate, the Mac App Store is going to generate huge wads of cash for everyone involved, Apple and its partners. 

I'm certain to have missed some details and features in this rapid first-look account, and that's where you come in: What have your experiences of the Mac App Store been? What do you think about it, will you use it? If you're a developer, how do you think it will impact your business? Please let me know in comments below and I'd urge you to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know about new articles as they go up here first on Computerworld.

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