Apple's Mac App Store -- you ain't seen nothing yet

By Jonny Evans

Apple [AAPL] has served over 100 million downloads from its Mac App Store in just 340-days, or approximately 204 Mac apps every minute of the day, making Apple the world's biggest Mac software retailer.

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Think out of the box

We've been expecting Apple to completely dump all boxed software from inside of its retail stores, but that transition isn't complete yet. The company in July discontinued retail store sale of many of its own products, such as iWork, iLife and Aperture.

Today, eight of the top ten top grossing software titles on the store are from Apple: OS X Lion; Logic Pro; Final Cut Pro; pages; iPhoto; Aperture; Keynote and Numbers. Civilization V and Adobe Photoshop Elements complete the list.

Number-crunching the 100 million applications Apple has shifted through the Mac App Store in the 340 days since launch, we learn it is selling:

  • 294,118 apps per day;
  • 12,254 apps per hour;
  • 204 apps per minute;
  • 3.4 apps per second.

Growing fast

The store has grown fast. Apple opened for business offering 1,000 applications, now it hosts 10,000 apps. The Mac App Store is included with Mac OS X Lion and is available as a software update for any Mac running Mac OS X Snow Leopard.

"In just three years the App Store changed how people get mobile apps, and now the Mac App Store is changing the traditional PC software industry," said Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, in a statement. "With more than 100 million downloads in less than a year, the Mac App Store is the largest and fastest growing PC software store in the world."

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Apple's statement also includes quotes from Autodesk and Pixelmator, reproduced below:

"With Autodesk products in both the App Store and Mac App Store, we can reach hundreds of millions of Apple users around the world," said Amar Hanspal, senior vice president of Platform Solutions and Emerging Business at Autodesk. "With our free AutoCAD WS and the more powerful professional drafting tools of AutoCAD LT, we're using the Mac App Store to deliver new products and reach a growing base of new Mac customers."

"The Mac App Store has unparalleled reach and has completely transformed our distribution and development cycle," said Saulius Dailide of the Pixelmator Team. "Offering Pixelmator 2.0 exclusively on the Mac App Store allows us to streamline updates to our image editing software and stay ahead of the competition."

[ABOVE: Steve Jobs introduces the Mac App store.]

Is it really all about control?

Reaction hasn't always been positive. Developers at Rixstep -- who predicted Apple would introduce online software sales a year before the event took place -- have previously warned the outlet intimates just how much control Cupertino wants to exercise across its product ecosystems.

Online software sales competitor Valve president Gabe Newell is also critical. Speaking in October he predicted an Apple TV-cum-console gaming solution, but warned: "I consider Apple to be very closed," he said. "Let's say you have a book business and you are charging five to seven per cent gross margins. You can't exist in an Apple world because they want 30 per cent and they don't care that you only have seven per cent to play with."

"The Mac App Store will be the best place to discover Apps," said Apple's former CEO Steve Jobs, announcing the store. "It won't be the only place, but we think it will be the best."

In fairness, developers offering software via the App Store benefit from its huge reach -- just look at the accelerating Mac sales of recent quarters in the graphic above. Developers don't have to pay credit card processing or bandwidth fees and if they offer their apps for free they pay nothing at all. They must agree a 70/30 split (in their own favor) if they charge for their software.

A mobile solution for a post-PC era

The store shows us where Apple is going. Apple CEO (then COO) Tim Cook in a financial call this year explained, "Part of the magic of Apple is that there's not high walls between these product groups. They like each other, talk to each other, they're of the same DNA, they want to build the best products in the world."

The MacBook Air remains a strategically important product in Apple's arsenal. "I think Steve said it great when he said, 'If the Mac company were a separate company, and the iPad company were a separate company, what would the Mac company build to compete with the iPad? And I think the answer is the MacBook Air,'" said Cook.

This might be why the product is expected to achieve sales of 1.6 million each quarter starting next year.

As the Mac platform evolves into a post-PC computing solution, the strategic importance of the App Stores for Apple's mobile platforms will become ever more important, particularly as the UI teams work to ensure parity in usage between both Mac and iOS platforms in future -- a parity Microsoft is also promising to match.

Microsoft gets ready to rumble

The steady focus on Apple makes it easy to ignore the existence of Microsoft, but be in no doubt, Redmond is watching. Apple's long time PC foe and frenemy today published the Windows Store Application Developer Agreement, confirming that open source apps will be allowed for distribution via the Microsoft App Store.

That's interesting on two levels: It matches the so-called open nature of Android on the one hand, and provides a key difference between Apple's more closed approach on the other. Also interesting -- Microsoft has achieved a consistent user interface across both its mobile and PC devices, though it will be a year or so until we see this battle hot up for real.

March next year will see developers offering software via the Mac App Store forced to implement sandboxing technology in their apps if they want to sell them through Apple. This is a security measure which limits the power individual apps might have over your Mac. But could this also be a move toward exercising more control over the Mac software experience?

However, given the increased importance of mobile solutions within Apple's future development road map, I would anticipate that the company expects steady growth in Mac App Store downloads, as online software purchases become the norm, you ain't seen nothing yet.

There's a hint of the future in the related news that the iOS App Store now offers over 500,000 apps, and customers now download over a billion iOS apps via iTunes each month.

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